I liked Garden State. I think it’s important to establish that I saw the film when I was in high school, where the anxieties of the day could be arranged as some sort of tree diagram of crushing panic. There was something very comforting in believing that a beautiful, quirky girl (note that it is not quirky, beautiful) could fall in love with me the moment I decided to share my favorite song with her. I’m being (kinda) facetious, but the point stands: the world was a far less complicated place back then. I don’t especially like Garden State anymore.
Demetri Martin’s debut film Dean reminded me a lot of Garden State. They both provoke simple, blasé, and vapid emotions effectively. That’s not entirely an insult. The film details the grief that Dean (Demetri Martin), an illustrator, experiences in the aftermath of his mother’s death. His father (Kevin Kline), meanwhile, struggles to cope with the loss as he’s forced to consider selling the large family home that’s unfit for just himself. Dean and his father struggle to communicate, the two so frequently calling one another but never actually connecting. So uncommunicative and disinterested in confronting his father, Dean opts to take a sojourn to Los Angeles for no other reason than to escape his father’s requests to help sell his childhood home. And so he goes, initially humoring a job interview before meeting up with an estranged acquaintance that takes him to a party. Here he meets Nicky (Gillian Jacobs), who, you guessed it, reignites his interest in the world.
Martin’s a very likable presence that somehow manages to cut through the more jejune elements of his screenplay. He’s funny in a precise and bright way. But this is a film that’s fundamentally about the grieving process and it all comes across as terribly flat and disingenuous. The film lacks specificity. It’s most intriguing element, which sees Martin illustrate his anxieties, where the death of his mother sees Death surface within his drawings, is a terrific cosmetic component but never feels fully ingrained within the thematic intent of the narrative. Same goes for Kevin Kline’s narrative, which is often handled haphazardly - the film’s recurring joke that highlights Kline’s technological ineptitude is so tacky and unfunny that it stunts any progress the film makes toward sincerity. There’s nothing raw or vivid or especially profound about Dean’s observations. It’s a film that conceals any sense of emotional anxiety for something palatable and non-confrontational. The world is more complicated than what the film posits. It can be comforting, sure. Maybe that’s what you’re looking for. But then there’s Garden State.