Still from Garden State
This weekend sees the arrival of Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here in UK cinemas, the film he part-funded with $2 million in Kickstarter donations. It peddles roughly the same blend of indie-mixtape earnestness and dysfunctional comedy as the former Scrubs star’s debut, Garden State; a Sundance hit in 2004 that has since fallen out of favour with critics who love to hate its youthful self-absorption and overwrought brand of white, male, middle-class angst.
In ten years, it would seem, Braff has learnt nothing.
But as Jesse David Fox’s 2013 piece for [Vulture](http://LINK http://www.vulture.com/2013/05/defense-of-garden-state-zach-braff.html) pointed out, the film has been quietly influential in its way, at least in terms of helping to define a set of genre conventions by which directors could self-consciously identify as "indie". To celebrate Wish You Were Here's release, we thought we'd examine some of these weathered indie tropes and ask which films have been the biggest perpetrators.
Garden State (2004)
Most often cited by the film’s chorus of naysayers is the scene where Natalie Portman, playing a manic pixie dream girl long before New Girl hit our TV screens, tells Braff that The Shins will “change your life”. But for our money, Garden State’s seminal moment of cringe arrives when Braff, Portman and some guy no one ever remembers scream into the “infinite abyss” of a quarry, in a nauseating metaphor for these comfortably well-off white Americans’ supposed inability to, you know, *feel* and stuff?
The quarry can't solve your problems, guys; it's inert.
Me And You And Everyone We Know (2005)
The hugely irritating debut film by Miranda July – the liberal arts major’s Phoebe from Friends – features some of the worst dialogue of all time. There’s a certain strain endemic in American thought – the result, perhaps, of new-age claptrap and too much psychotherapy – that seems to think talking like a neurotic toddler with high IQ is acceptable. It isn’t. What’s more, this is exactly the kind of shit that led to the modern phenomenon of "wackaging", and adverts like this one. Thanks, Miranda July. Thanks for ruining everything.
A film so irritating, one critic actually wrote that he wanted to “punch” it, this 2009 rom-com turkey stars Paul Dano as a mattress salesman who dreams of adopting a Chinese baby and mumbles a lot when he’s not busy being assaulted by Zach Galifianakis. He strikes up a relationship with a free-spirited young woman called Harriet Lolly, played by – you're not gonna believe this – Zooey Deschanel, after she seduces him in this scene of sizzling sexual chemistry. Honestly, who green-lights this shit?
Cameron Crowe’s first major misfire inadvertently brought the two most annoying actors on the planet together, with Kirsten Dunst playing a cutesy flight attendant in a fluffy red beanie that might as well be a fucking beret. Crowe’s never been afraid of courting a bit of old-fashioned cheese, but watching the star-crossed scene above in isolation, it seems like a bad dub (“It’s a great map!”). As an added bonus, there are some lingering stares going on here that even Made In Chelsea producers would balk at.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
ROAD TRIP! Two words to inspire dread in your average US indie flick; we’ve never understood the correlation between driving and learning "life lessons" ourselves. Perhaps that’s because we’re English: in the UK, driving is all congested A-roads, mini-roundabouts and Welcome Break toilets. In America, you can barely take the handbrake off without emerging a wiser person from the experience. So it goes with Little Miss Sunshine, a Sundance teacher’s pet of a movie that also suffers from another common indie-related ailment.
Consider: the film’s principal characters include, in no particular order, a glib motivational speaker and father-of-two, his highly strung wife and WWII veteran father, who just got kicked out of an old folks’ home for snorting heroin – naturally. Then there’s the kids, a sulky teenage boy who’s taken a vow of silence, and his younger sister, a child beauty queen contestant. Finally there’s the mum's brother: a gay, suicidal Proustian scholar played by Steve Carell. Throw in a dog with low self-esteem, and you’ve got pretty much the archetypal Quirky Modern Indie Film Family.
500 Days Of Summer (2008)
Granted, 500 Days Of Summer is a kind of riposte to the idea of the manic pixie dream girl; a rebuttal of the notion that meeting a cute gal who enjoys music by The Smiths will somehow be the doe-eyed panacea to all your ills. That doesn’t mean it isn’t annoying. And 500 Days Of Summer is never more annoying than in this scene, which features Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in a tank-top, doing karaoke Pixies, while Zooey Deschanel whoops and hollers her approval from the sidelines. Unwatchable.
Lars And The Real Girl (2007)
Everyone loves Ryan Gosling, but only God can forgive Lars And The Real Girl, a schmaltzy affair about a small-town community that takes a socially maladjusted man to its heart after he develops an emotional bond with an inflatable sex doll. Kind of like Frank Capra, then – if Frank Capra made terrible indie films about men who developed emotional bonds with inflatable sex dolls.
Worst scene? How about the one with Gozza slow-dancing on the verge of tears while another man twirls the sex doll around in a wheelchair? Maybe he's about to cry because it’s just dawned on him what a terrible film he’s in.
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008)
Indie soundtracks have been a cute marketing ploy ever since Garden State’s playlist score became a platinum seller, but making it the whole premise of a movie? Guys, this is some next-level shit. Perhaps worst of all in this hipster rom-com is the above scene of seduction, Michael Cera-style – having bonded with Norah (Kat Dennings) over their shared taste in music and wound up in New York’s legendary Electric Lady studios together, Nick (Cera) self-deprecatingly mutters his way into Norah’s pants, and the camera cuts away to a sound monitor that peaks with her moans of delight. Wrong on so many levels.
Wish I Was Here (2014)
We're not normally minded to campaign for the reintroduction of National Service. But two hours spent in the company of Aidan Bloom, the psychobabbulous, wistful-crap-spouting narcissist played by Zach Braff in Wish I Was Here, is almost enough to make us reconsider. In this scene, Bloom takes his annoyingly precocious kids on a road-trip to the spot where he last had an “epiphany”, which is not a word dads should be using in front of their kids, ever.