Trouble writing complex, flawed characters?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a good resource to study if you want to write witty, snappy dialogue with really good pacing. Today I want to talk about a resource to study when you want to create complex, very human characters: Garden State, written and directed by Zach Braff (more widely known as JD from Scrubs).

Zach plays Andrew, a struggling actor working as a waiter in LA who is numb to life, to everything, to the point of not having much of a reaction when his father calls with the news that his mother has died. Andrew flies home to New Jersey (the Garden State) for his mother’s funeral. As the main focus of the story, Andrew goes through the most significant change over the course of the movie. Bits of Andrew’s backstory are included where appropriate to explain the large number of pill bottles in his LA apartment bathroom, his emotional detachment from the whole world, and the reason he hadn’t been home in nine years. The viewer gradually begins to see the real Andrew emerge from his pill-induced emotional coma and begin to make connections with those around him.

Sam, played by Natalie Portman, is an epileptic compulsive liar, who lives in a somewhat crazy household. She initially appears to be the exact opposite of Andrew, although perhaps a bit superficial. But like Andrew, she shows more and more depth over the course of the story, and helps Andrew to start rebuilding his emotional life.

Mark, played by Peter Sarsgaard, is one of Andrew’s childhood friends. We first meet him at Andrew’s mother’s funeral, where Mark, a gravedigger, is waiting to finish the job. Mark has a bizarre relationship with his mother (with whom he still lives), who is dating someone the same age as her son. Mark seems to be wandering aimlessly through life. He has all kinds of investment plans (including collecting Desert Storm trading cards), but not much ambition. But like Sam, Mark plays a very important role in helping Andrew to reconnect with those around him, and to discover a lost piece of his childhood.

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