© MGM / Courtesy Everett Collection
[Editor’s note: Spoilers ahead for “A Good Person.”]
When Zach Braff’s “Garden State” debuted in 2004, it achieved two things almost immediately: it established the debut filmmaker (then best known to most audiences as the star of the sitcom “Scrubs”) as an independent creator to watch; To greater effect, a discussion began about the types of female characters that populate such stories. They are cute! They are twisted! They exist almost entirely to help a man solve his problems! She’s a crazy dream girl!
The then-film critic and AV Club staff Nathan Rabin gave this allegorical name A year after “Garden State” another movie was released, Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown”. But as Rabin points out in his essay, Braff’s “Garden State” outdid Crowe in creating a character “existing only in the feverish fantasies of sensitive writers and directors teaching passionate, exuberant young men to embrace life and its endless mysteries and adventures.”
Two decades on with his movie A Good Person, Braff is doing his best to kill the trope he helped create. But instead of presenting a female character with her own problems and desires that don’t exist solely for the advancement of a man, the director opts for a cheap trope from a different strip: It’s another narrow portrayal of femininity on screen, just her. no Cute or quirky!
Instead of helping another (read: male love interest) solve their problems through whimsy and silliness, Braff has turned his leading lady (Florence Pugh, just like Braff’s original MPDG, Natalie Portman, is an overachieving actress who breathes life into flimsy writing) into a sufferer. From his anguish so insurmountable that it’s a miracle he’s still alive, let alone helping a grieving man.
She’s not obsessed, she’s depressed. It’s not a jerk, it’s practically a goblin. It’s not a dream, it’s a nightmare.
In the nearly two decades since the release of “Garden State,” Rabin’s mandate has become widespread, complete with a great comprehensive Wikipedia entry as well as some clever counter-examples (we’d add “Ruby Sparks” by Zoe Kazan to the list). And Braff still responded.
Braff also starred in Garden State, casting himself as depressed Andrew Largeman, who returns to New Jersey after his mother’s death and finds himself facing countless long-term pregnancy issues. He soon meets MPDG Sam (Portman), who is really sweet and quirky and is there almost entirely to help Andrew with his problems.
said the director during a recent interview The Independent He modeled Sam on some of his favorite leading ladies including Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall” and Ruth Gordon in “Harold and Maude”.
He said, “Of course I hear the criticism and respect it, but I was a very depressed young man who had this fantasy of a dream girl coming and saving me from myself, and so I wrote that character.” “While I was writing it, I was hoping that I could survive what came to be known as the quarter-life crisis, depression, and imagine that the perfect woman would come and save me.”
In short, yes, he built a crazy dream girl, the “perfect woman” who could “save” him (him! Not even his character). With “A Good Person,” Braff turns the tables: This time, it’s her woman Who needs saving? In the end, the man helps her do it.
Sam’s problems in the Garden State — epilepsy, compulsive lying, her family on the outside — are what make her all the more attractive and adorable. But in “A Good Person,” Ali (Pugh) is just like that ID Because of her troubles, which are many and many, all stemming from an initiatory car accident in which her personal distraction led to the deaths of her soon-to-be sister-in-law and her sweet husband.
A year later, her life was completely blown away. The one-time drug sales star with no job, without a fiancé, addicted to opioids, living at home with her supportive mother, friendless, broke, unwashed, unmotivated, and yes, deeply depressed. Ali tries to come clean, only to find out that her local Alcoholics Anonymous get-together (or is it Narcotics Anonymous? It’s never obvious, weird for a movie about addiction) is also frequented by Daniel (Morgan Freeman), her ex-fiancé’s father. His sister (the woman Ali who was killed in the accident).
Will they be able to forgive each other? To save each other?
This isn’t a metaphorical question: both of their lives hang in the balance throughout the tormenting drama. This is a movie where we see Florence Pugh cracking smoke with a pair of local losers behind a dingy dive bar on a weekday morning, and it’s nowhere near as cliched as the movie’s most vulgar incident. (Hit the break, “I flush your pills down the toilet while crying and screaming,” frantically digging for pills under the sink, and even desperately running to a local drugstore hoping to use its sneaky charms to swindle a new prescription.)
Even with this anti-hero, Braff still can’t shake MPDG’s obsessions. We first meet Ali as she bangs on the piano and sings “After Hours” by the Velvet Underground (it’s a Mo Tucker song: “Oh, someday, I know somebody’s gonna look me in the eye / And say, ‘Hey, you’re mine so special'”) at her own engagement party .
We soon learn that she also pulled this stunt on her first date with fiancé Nathan (Chinaza Uche), grabbing a bar piano to tease while everyone else supposedly fled the joint. You know the genre, probably from the movies.
To kill his own trope, Braff swerves violently, giving her nothing but problems. cut it! More clichés! Pile on the pain! It’s almost enough to make us miss our quirks, but there’s no happy medium: It’s manic, or depressive, and the narrow idea of what a female character can be.
Perhaps inevitably, by the end of the movie, Ali’s healing journey has led her to recapture some of the same freaks she so fiercely dumped before. I have put out an EP. I have moved to the city. And she spends the final act’s funeral (yes, the man who “saved” her) dressed in a wildly inappropriate fashion (dare I say, crooked?), all while making sure everyone has enough donuts.
She baked them herself, of course, and they are very sweet.
MGM’s version, “Good The Person” is now in theaters.
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