Zach Braff reflects on writing Garden State 's 'manic pixie dream girl': 'I was a very depressed young man'

·3 min read

Zach Braff no longer concerns himself with criticism surrounding Garden State's popularization of the "manic pixie dream girl" love interest.

The actor's 2004 directorial debut and Sundance hit tells the story of a troubled young actor named Andy (Braff) who returns to his hometown to attend his mother's funeral, where he falls in love with a Shins-obsessed compulsive liar and amateur musician named Sam (Natalie Portman). The romance dramedy has been ruthlessly re-evaluated in the modern era — but Braff is taking the backlash in stride.

"I was just copying Diane Keaton in Annie Hall and Ruth Gordon in Harold and Maude," Braff told The Independent of Portman's character, who's often considered the blueprint for eccentric, one-dimensional female characters that exist primarily to inspire male protagonists. "Those were my two favorite movies growing up, and I was kind of taking those two female protagonists and melding them into Natalie Portman."

Natalie Portman and Zach Braff in 'Garden State'
Natalie Portman and Zach Braff in 'Garden State'

K.C. Bailey Natalie Portman and Zach Braff in 'Garden State'

"Of course I've heard and respect the criticism, but I was a very depressed young man who had this fantasy of a dream girl coming along and saving me from myself," Braff said. "And so I wrote that character." Braff had OCD as a child, he said. "I knew I was battling something. That's what writing Garden State was about. I wasn't as extreme as Andy, but I was certainly battling my own demons. As I was writing it, I was hoping I could survive what became known as the quarter-life crisis, and depression, and fantasizing that the perfect woman would come along and rescue me."

Braff isn't bothered by Vice's scathing 2015 piece pegged to the film's 10th anniversary, titled "It's the Ten-Year Anniversary of Realizing Garden State Sucked." He said, I just feel lucky that I get to make stuff. I can't really dwell on it. . . No one said being a creative person was easy, but you have to be vulnerable and authentically yourself. Otherwise, what's the point? Your skin gets tougher. When you're young, you're very vulnerable. But I've been doing this for 20 years now. You get used to it."

Don't expect the manic pixie dream girl stereotype in A Good Person, the forthcoming drama written, directed, and produced by Braff. The film (out March 24) follows Braff's former partner Florence Pugh as Alice, a woman whose life unravels following a near-fatal car accident. Her unlikely friendship with her would-be-father-in-law (Morgan Freeman) emboldens her to put herself back together again.

Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman in 'A Good Person'
Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman in 'A Good Person'

Jeong Park / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman in 'A Good Person'

"Most actors, the director is there to shape them and steer them, and in the edit room you really shape a performance," Braff said of Pugh's "flawless" performance in conversation with EW last year. "But there's not a single thing Florence did that isn't correct, in my brain as the one who wrote it."

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