Soundtracks are tough. A lot of them don't actually fit in all that well with their movie- but then again, if you're dealing with something like 'Armageddon' or 'Titanic' you don't need a soundtrack to match. Insert [Generic Love Theme] by [Soft Rock Balladeer/Aging Rock Stars/Peabo Bryson] and fill in the rest of the blanks. By and large, they don't stand out when put up against other albums, but there are some exceptions. The soundtrack to 'The Graduate' is usually cited as the most successful, but for a more contemporary taste, I'd have to say my pick would be the soundtrack to 'Garden State.'
You gotta hand it to Zach Braff. He wrote, directed and starred in the movie- and he somehow found the time to pick the most brilliant soundtrack I've ever heard- and it works perfectly. You really won't find soundtracks better than this one and here's why: Garden State (the movie) is very emotionally subtle. There's not a lot of sloppy face-sucking or heavy-handed decision making. Braff's character is an emotionally numb, over medicated mid-20s guy who has to return home to New Jersey for him Mom's funeral where he decides to start feeling things again, slowly emerging from his personal fog to figure out something about his life. What's brilliant though is that there's no 'ah-ha' moment in the movie for Braff's character. He doesn't get a brilliant idea and then go rush off to 'fix' things- no, instead, he figures out he needs get on with his life, whatever that's going to look like and goes and does. That may be a terrible way of trying to impart the emotional subtleties of the film to you, the reader- but it's subtle, OK. If you don't believe me, go watch it.
But- back to the soundtrack: the music Braff picked does what every soundtrack should do, but a lot of them don't: it reflects the mood and tone of the movie perfectly. From the opening track from Coldplay 'Don't Panic' to a double shot of The Shins 'Caring Is Creepy' and 'New Slang' and Zero 7's 'In The Waiting Line' and contributions from the perhaps more well-known indy fixtures as Frou Frou, Thievery Corporation and Iron and Wine the entire soundtrack becomes one big celebration of acoustic, moody, indy music, which plays perfectly with (again, I'm sorry- just go see for yourselves. Really. It's a good movie.) the overall subtleties explored in the film.
This soundtrack introduced me to The Shins. Awesome awesome band. In the movie, Natalie Portman hands her headphones to Zach Braff and tells him 'Listen to this song, it'll change your life, I swear.' Perhaps a little melodramatic on her part, but it's kind of true. I had discovered Coldplay in high school- though I love their second album far more than their first- though that's still good. This soundtrack also introduced me to Frou Frou. Not that I listened to a lot of Frou Frou, just the song off this soundtrack. ('Let Go'- again, awesome song.) And overall, I love the soundtrack for the same reason that I love the movie. If you're in your mid-to-late 20s, trying to figure out how and what to do with your life, you'll identify with this movie. It'll, as so many people say in that vague, vague way 'speak to you' somehow. And as for the soundtrack, well I found this quote that summarizes it nicely:
Commenting on the soundtrack’s importance to the film, Sponic Zine wrote, "Braff did a masterful job of choosing songs that exemplified the emotional subtleties in the film… he put together a group of songs that complement each other perfectly and, when put together into one album, create something amazing, almost as if they never should have been apart"
And if this review has been subpar in anyway, I apologize- but really, this soundtrack can be summed up quite nicely by the above quotation and there's nothing more that I can really add to that in any meaningful way.
Overall: If you haven't seen this movie, you should. If you own just one soundtrack in your collection, this should be it.