Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Outgrowing Garden State (See what I did there?)

A copy of the soundtrack to Garden State sat on the back counter of the store where I work. My co-worker, an 18-year-old girl, picked it up, took a look at it, and asked, "Is this a good movie?"

I raised an eyebrow. I know, intellectually, that this girl is considerably younger than I am, but you never know how it's going to manifest itself. Garden State came out when I was in high school. Everyone I knew, including myself, were going through the same crisis of identity, wonderment at the world, coming to terms with being different. None of us had really seen a movie like Garden State before, and it was good to have something that was ultimately really positive, that emphasized that there was a lot of amazing stuff out there in the world to keep living for. Many of us watched it over and over through our college years until the magic wore off, somehow, probably around the end of the Bush era. This girl is young enough that she would have to go out of her way to see it.

"We used to think so," I told her, "We all loved it when it came out, but it... maybe hasn't aged well. A lot of what was original about it has sort of become cliche, especially the Natalie Portman manic pixie dream girl character." I say this, having had many geeky conversations with this co-worker, assuming she'll know the term. She seems to.

I watched it recently. For me, it hasn't aged great. Its positivity and charming whimsy feel a bit more like syrupy sentiment and quirk for quirk's sake, but then again I'm older and grumpier now. We're all a bit less comfortable with plots about mopey dudes being cheered up by outrageous girls who make it their entire mission to do so. We demand a bit more subtlety than yodeling into the abyss. The scene of Portman "doing something totally original" in particular made me squeamish. There's also the problematic relationship the movie has to prescription drugs (remember, Braff's character is being unethically over-prescribed by his psychiatrist father out of guilt, a distinction that is only lightly touched on for most of the movie.)

It was a good movie for its time and place, especially for the age I was when it came out. I don't know if today's teenagers maybe have better examples to guide them through that same 16-19 stretch, or if we've just given up (the Focus Features/Fox Searchlight trend seems to have died out.) The generation just after me got Twilight and all its associated knockoffs, imitators and followers. Maybe I shouldn't have been dismissive. It was a good movie for its time. It happens that society, tastes and perspectives have just kind of... shifted away. It didn't feel like a huge cliche to me anyway when it was made, that's the important thing. We just can never control how these things work out afterward. I still like it better than Perks of Being a Wallflower.

"Well," I said at the end of my ambivalent summary, "The soundtrack's still pretty great."

Monday, February 3, 2014

Telekinesis: Dormarion

Telekinesis is an apt name for Michael Benjamin Lerner's one-man project. Listening to the album, you get the impression of him sitting perfectly still, directing the instruments to play themselves in perfect unison, all the pieces fitting together like clockwork. But the reality is probably that it was an a very labor-intensive project for the multi-instrumentalist, whose only partner in crime is dummer/producer Jim Eno of Spoon. Whether by meticulous study or great instinct, they ended up with a great set of power/electro pop that turn from roaring fuzz guitar to crisp synthplay on a dime, earning a place next to Phoenix's Wolfgang Amadeus or Foster the People's first, although I think there is more variation, and more successfully, than on either of those great albums. This is a real deftly made album, which knows what joys there are in listening to music and seeks to load every track up with them, but never gets repetitive or dull.

This was the first album I listened to on New Year's Day 2014. I had had it in my pocket for much of the year, and had really enojoyed it but never got around to writing about it. When I got up that morning and went for a walk, it was the exact "full of possibilities" soundtrack I needed to start the year.