I would like to start off this edition of Soundtrack To My Life by admitting when I’m (kind of) wrong. A few weeks ago, for those not obsessively listening to The Alt Revue Podcast, my co-hosts Michael and Greg and I went head-to-head on the topic of which movie soundtrack we think is the best. I do not regret my decision to argue that Twilight (and really the entire movie franchise) has one stellar soundtrack; what I DO regret is never having seen Michael’s selection of the 2004 cult-classic Garden State. After the podcast aired, my boyfriend bought the blu-ray for Garden State online and a few days later we would finally learn what was missing from our lives. You see, I just assume my boyfriend has seen every good movie ever; I mean he was a film major after all. So the fact he had never mentioned it meant it was entirely off my radar. WE WERE BOTH MISSING OUT. First of all, the movie is adorably heartwarmingly bittersweet. Starring Zach Braff as Andrew and Natalie Portman as Sam, the story follows Andrew through tragedy and turmoil and blossoming love. I don’t want to ruin the plot because I really really really really really REALLY want you all to go watch this movie if you haven’t seen it, and re-watch it if you have. Besides, what I’m really here to nerd out about is the incredible soundtrack.
On top of being the lead character, Zach Braff wrote and directed the film, as well as hand selected the music that he wanted included. With such a small budget of approximately $2,500,000, it was through pure power of will that he was able to obtain rights to use the collection of music he wanted to narrate his storyline. In my opinion, it’s a perfect mixtape, including Cold Play, The Shins, Simon & Garfunkel, and Iron & Wine; not just a soundtrack to a powerful movie, but also the soundtrack to a particularly important time in indie music history, the early- to mid- 2000’s. The soundtrack was so believable as a once off mix CD because all the songs and artists incorporated were not unlikely to be seen in a zip-up portfolio of CDs stashed in the back seat or glove box of a college undergrad’s car. It’s so integral to the storyline because it really conjures up a sense of the time and setting of the story, and helps build the characters of both Andrew and Sam. Sam has an incredible taste in indie and alternative music, and her vinyl collection is TO-DIE-FOR. I love the way music is incorporated into the setting with scenes involving Sam, like she has her own personal soundtrack; for example, the way she exclaims “You gotta hear this one song — it’ll change your life; I swear" before forcing her headphones blaring “New Slang “ by The Shins onto Andrew upon their initial meeting, or when she puts on the Alexi Murdoch song “Orange Sky” on vinyl in her bedroom and it briefly swells and carries over into the next scene as they exit her house into the back yard. Rights to “Orange Sky” could not be acquired for the official soundtrack, though, which was a shame. Andrew grows in his taste for Sam’s music and eccentricities as he breaks out of his self-imposed numbness
Sometimes full songs aren’t even used in the film, but very short pieces are used to punctuate particular scenes. Just the chorus to the melancholy indie tune “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” by Colin Hay is used to set a mood while Andrew solemnly rides his motorcycle away from Sam’s house. A similar thing happens to the alt-rock song “Fair” by Remy Zero, which is comically juxtaposed to Sam trying to cheer up Andrew by tap-dancing in front of one of the most magnificent fireplaces I’ve ever seen. (Bonus: Remy Zero was “discovered” by Radiohead, which is pretty cool)
Garden State’s soundtrack would eventually go platinum in the US and won Braff a Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Pictures, Television, or Other Visual Media. It’s honestly no wonder, because the soundtrack is that good! For one actor/writer/director to generate a playlist that acted as the soundtrack for his movie and as the soundtrack to an era is incredible, and I’m still ashamed I didn’t know about it until 2018. In my defense, the film came out in 2004, I was only 10 and I didn’t know good music yet. I wish I could have traded shoes with my sister for just one day of her 16th year to be able to experience this movie and its soundtrack in its prime, but at least it’s never too late to experience something for the first time and see it become one of your new favorite things.