When most people think about Zach Braff, the first thing they will think about is his role as J.D. in the hit TV series Scrubs.
While Scrubs has rightfully grown into a cult classic, some may not be aware of the body of work that Braff has curated outside of his more mainstream career.
As Braff studied performing arts at Stagedoor Manor (a summer camp that also churned out other successful actors such as Josh Charles and Natalie Portman) and had a childhood desire to make films, it only makes sense that he would create some amazing works of art that audiences have been able to enjoy on the big screen.
With his new TV show Alex, Inc. airing this year, of which Braff is an executive producer and occasional director on, it seems fitting to have a throwback at his other directional works, especially as they are so loved by many.
Garden State (2004)
Zach Braff’s directorial debut (which he also wrote and starred in) seemed to be a hop, skip, and a jump away from the light-hearted quirkiness that was Scrubs.
The story of a struggling actor/waiter who is completely detached from his life and emotions is a far cry from the bubbly character that is J.D. But this doesn’t make it any less enthralling to watch.
Garden State dives right into meaty subject matters such as death, trauma, and mental health all while depicting this in a quirky and funny way. The performances delivered by Braff and the supporting cast such as Natalie Portman are not only outstanding but are also uplifting. We even get to see a small role from Jim Parsons, who gives us a glimpse at his nerd-chic character which may have even inspired the development of Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory.
The film also seemed to be one of the first to start certain trends, such as putting together the score as a mixtape of sorts as well as developing the love interest as a manic, pixie dream girl, something which has been used in many other nostalgic feeling films.
What’s even more interesting is that this work is loosely based on Braff’s own life, which seems to prove the philosophical position that art imitates life. It also may be why this flick was such a critical success and has also gone on to become a cult classic.
Wish I Was Here (2014)
Audiences waited patiently for a decade for the follow up to Garden State, some of which were happy with the result. However, some were not.
Wish I Was Here famously gained funding through the crowdfunding website Kickstarter and was co-written by Zach Braff and his brother Adam. Akin to Garden State, the story follows a struggling actor, this time in their mid-thirties, wondering how long is too long to pursue one’s dreams.
Through a series of events, Braff’s character Aidan along with his wife (Kate Hudson) and kids go through a journey of self-discovery, one that is funny and heart-warming to watch. It is clear that the Braff brothers have poured their heart and soul into this film, the only problem is that many believe this hasn’t paid off. But why is this?
Perhaps it is simply because audiences feel at ease with people in their twenties who are struggling with life but not their thirties. Perhaps by then, people want their characters to have it all figured out. Maybe the movie wasn’t indie enough or perhaps some were simply wanting an exact replica to Garden State and were disappointed when they didn’t get it.
Whatever the case may be, this is still an excellent piece of work and we can only hope that Braff is brave enough to move through the criticism and perhaps give us a third film in 2024.
Going In Style (2017)
While Braff did not write the script for this one, he did direct this heist comedy film starring Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin as well as many other seasoned actors.
This flick certainly doesn’t have the same nostalgic feel as Braff’s other pieces of work, however, it does look like a good time. Going In Style received mixed reviews from critics and so could make the perfect movie to watch on a rainy afternoon.
If anything, this is worth watching to simply get a look at how Zach Braff is able to flex his skills outside of his traditional genre.
In order to attract interest in the movie, Braff included a mixtape with every script of Garden State he sent out.