Sixteen songs and what do you get? A throwaway movie and deeper in debt to your soundtrack.

I did not love Garden State when I saw it in the theater, at all.  It’s not that I’m immune to trite, sentimental crapola.  I am positively susceptible to it.  Oh, I most definitely am, especially sentimental crapola with a sensitive young thing for a protagonist.  It certainly doesn’t hurt if said crapola features Natalie Portman in the role of the beautiful female cipher with the healing smile.  (At least she’s of age in Garden State — I’m sure I can’t be the only person to have been made to give myself the willies for finding her so unearthly-lovely in The Professional and Beautiful Girls.)

I think I was inoculated against Garden State because I went to see it with my then-girlfriend as we were in the process of breaking up (not that I could’ve told you so at the time — willful blindness on everyone’s part), and was especially antipathetic to cheap emotional shortcuts in my narrative.  And Garden State was chock-fuckin’-full of emotional shortcuts.

I recall the scene where Zach Braff’s character reconciles with his father over the course of like five minutes, via the power of Hallmark aphorism, as being the last goddamn straw — for Jesus’s sake, that scene actually had Braff physically put his hand on his dad’s heart as he spoke his lines.  Who can watch a scene like that and not yearn to stab a writer-director-actor?  Not me.

I won’t stab him in his soundtrack, though.  We need that intact for donation to posterity, ’cause it’s probably the best part of the movie.  Which brings us to Amanda’s post about movies and TV shows what use their soundtracks as a crutch.

Cameron Crowe comes up in the comments, as he must.  Who here has seen Singles?  Me either.  Yet that album still lives on my iTunes, fourteen years after I first got the CD.  Crowe can compile the shit out of a soundtrack.

Where I’d say Crowe differs from Zach Braff is that he actually makes good movies from time to time.  Say Anything is the obvious example, but Almost Famous was just fine, and even Vanilla Sky was surprisingly enjoyable — though for me the soundtrack did some very heavy lifting in that movie as well.*

Anyway, this is all kind of an elaborate way of getting you to a) go over to Pandagon and click on the video where the Garden State scene gets different music for to bring the funny and to help us all learn, and b) to ask you what movies and TV you think use pop music either as i) a crutch or ii) to good effect.

*Here’s where I am obligated to tell you, ahem-ahem, that Vanilla Sky wasn’t nearly as good as Abre Los Ojos, the Spanish movie of which it was a remake.  This is not just because the obscure European film is always better than the slick Hollywood version.  I mean, that’s actually true, but in this case it’s also about my schoolboy devotion to Najwa Nimri.  Not only is she bite-your-knuckle beautiful, but there’s a scene in another movie of hers, The Lovers of the Arctic Circle, where her character sits by a lake and eats God’s Own Sandwich, and it’s not like a sexy scene or anything like that, by a longshot, but Jesus Christ that sandwich — I think that’s when I decided she would be the actress who plays the role of my perfect woman.

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6 thoughts on “Sixteen songs and what do you get? A throwaway movie and deeper in debt to your soundtrack.

  1. Eric

    Good post title.

    Last week Thurs my cute new roommate and her friend wooed me in to watching Grey’s Anatomy w/ promises of rotisserie chicken and Nestle’s Cookies & Cream chocolate covered cones. Needless to say it worked. I mention this because whoever does that show studied at the school of Braff.

    The show’s way over the top, but it has a few funny moments and makes you think it’s powerful because it’s set in a hospital and uses the tear-inducing sonic wavelengths of the Fray and their ilk.

    Also, on a somewhat related note I came across this discussion regarding the best last songs in movies a week or so back when looking up the last song of Fight Club.

    http://www.rollingstone.com/rockdaily/index.php/2006/08/17/list-of-the-day-best-last-songs-in-movies/

  2. Steve

    Grey’s Anatomy is most definitely indicted in the Pandagon thread as being a major offender in the “let the music do the heavy lifting” category.

    What I didn’t see in that thread, and what I can’t believe I didn’t think of until just now is the Ur-WB show, the progenitor of that style, Dawson’s Creek. If Grey’s Anatomy is stealing from Braff, Braff needs to be paying royalties to Kevin Williamson.

  3. Nicole

    I read somewhere that Zach Braff created the soundtrack and then shot the movie. Just in case that is of any interest to anyone.

  4. Steve

    Also, Eric, did you see in the comments to that Rolling Stone post where people were talking about best closing songs in movies, where multiple people proposed “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” from the end of Real Genius? Yes. If the audience is unaware, I believe Real Genius to be one of the finest films of all time.

  5. Ananth

    Steve,
    You shouldn’t feel bad about having dirty thoughts about natalie portman in The professional. SHe was of High School age in it, and we were in High School when we saw it.

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