I am going to start this by saying that I went into this film expecting to love it, and I left the movie loving it more than I expected. I start this post off with that sentence so that if you have come to this expecting me to rip the film apart, which seems to be the overwhelming nature of all the reviews I’ve read, then you have come to the wrong place.
Also, I have absolutely no intention of comparing it to Garden State, at all, even if Garden State is in my Top Ten favorite movies list. Sure, it may be the reason I am ever drawn to a Zach Braff penned film, but it does not script my view, nor lead my experience to be one of contrast and compare. I know, I know, I sound a bit (more than a bit) defensive here, and a little ready for battle, and maybe I am.
I know for sure that I am sick of the negativity and condescending attitudes that are a part of so many movie reviews. It is part of why I strive to write about things I love here, and that I enjoy. There is so much negativity in the world, I do not wish to be a part of it here.
Alright, I am off my soap box now, and back under a comfy blanket with a cup of hot coffee at close range, aimed and ready to tell you why I loved this film so much and why it will be part of my Top 300 (really, I need to expand that number soon) list.
Stories about Los Angeles are a favorite of mine, especially ones that don’t sugarcoat the City of Angels, but also do not degrade it, or mock it completely. Stories about families and the struggle to keep relationships together, are also a favorite, as well as realistic portrayals of parenthood and marriage, and being a “grown-up“.
What struck me first about the movie was Zach Braff’s character, Aidan’s, confusion and struggles with chasing a dream and being a responsible adult. The balance he’s been teetering on starts to shake and crumble as he’s faced with the mortality of his strong, yet polarizing, Father, the instability of his marriage, and the reality of facing the moment when your kids start to bypass you and you realize the things you can teach them are becoming few and far between. He’s also facing what feels like the death of his dreams, and it brings to the surface the question of “how long do you keep chasing after something when it continues to elude?”
Aidan’s wife, Sarah, played remarkably by Kate Hudson who gives her best performance since Almost Famous, in my opinion, hit home with me in a very personal way. Endlessly playing the role of breadwinner and the “Penny Lane” to so many dreamer men I’ve loved, it was hard to bear witness to some of her moments. It can be painful, and soul crushing, to be the one who believes so much in another’s dreams that you lose any of your own. When she asks Aidan when did the entire family be just about supporting his dream, and when she admitted to feeling like she was running on a hamster wheel in a job she hated but that it was what was keeping them all fed and housed, to say it struck a nerve would be an understatement. I felt for her confliction, for her sadness, for her mixed feelings that were pulling her between supporting the one she loves (enough so that she defends Aidan passionately to his Father) and wanting desperately to have some happiness, too.
The children, especially Grace, were unforgettable. I loved that they were both so uniquely written, and that there were details about their personality that were never explained. Its refreshing to not feel spoon fed characterization, but instead be given flushed out people who have quirks and sometimes contradicting personalities. Joey King is one to watch as an actor. If you saw her in Fargo (the television series) and then see her in this, you will see what I mean. She is the heart of this film, as well as the strength. The character who pushes people and asks the tough questions, and who persists in being herself even at an age that is so fraught with wanting to be just like everyone else.
There are so many moments in this movie that brought me to tears, and that have stuck into me in a way that I know will last. A stand-out moment is a scene between Kate Hudson’s Sarah, and Aidan’s Father Gabe, played by the always fantastic Mandy Patinkin, where they speak about death and love and the legacy we leave with our words. Another amazing scene happens through a phone call between Joey King’s Grace and Aidan’s recluse brother, Noah (played by Josh Gad, of Book of Mormon fame) dealing with fear of death and family and belonging. There are more, too, some without words, like when Grace shaves her head and watches the transformation in her mirrored reflection.
The soundtrack is fantastic, too, reminding me why once years ago I made a playlist entitled “I want Zach Braff to make me a mix tape” (FYI: I still do).