can't really say this movie is the launching pad of a major new talent, just
because we kind of knew him already. However, I don't think anyone had
any idea of the depths of his talent. Writer/director/star Zach Braff
is best known for playing Dr. John "J.D." Dorian on NBC's popular sitcom Scrubs.
While he is very good in that role, his performance here is a revelation.
Add to that the fact that he wrote and directed the film, and I have to say
my respect for him has skyrocketed. Garden State is amazingly
assured and imaginative for a first feature.
screenwriter, Braff has a nice, quirky, surreal, understated style. If
it's possible to imagine, Garden State seems like a Gen-Y version of
The Graduate written by a circa-World According to Garp John
Irving. The story, which is lightly autobiographical, is rather
simple. Braff plays Andrew "Large" Largeman, a young LA actor who years ago
had one good role as a retarded quarterback in a TV movie, but is now working as a waiter. He has been on
lithium since he was only ten-years-old due to a tragic family accident in
which he pushed his mother and she tripped over the dishwasher door and was
Ever since he has been walking through life in a numbed haze. He has
to go home to New Jersey for the first time in years because of his mother's
funeral. He takes the opportunity to go off his meds for the first
time since he was a child. As he sees old friends and haunts and meets
a beautiful-but-neurotic girl (Natalie Portman) for the first time in years
he starts to experience life and feelings.
straightforward description doesn't come close to describing the surreal,
comic and tragic depths of the story, though. Nor does it do justice
to the lyrical poetry of the language and the cinematography. Braff
has achieved the not inconsiderable feat of turning New Jersey into some
kind of existential Oz. Unlike the suburban nightmare the state is so
often portrayed as in movies, here the Garden State is a wonderland of
bottomless quarries, huge empty mansions and Rube Goldberg hamster
the drugs wear off in his system, Large is able to feel what it is like to
be living for the first time since
he was a prepubescent; the good, the bad, the ugly and the
weird. He finds his salvation in Sam (Portman), a cute, funny,
epileptic and compulsive liar. (She was also an ice skating crocodile
in her not so distant past.) He also runs into high school friends
like the guy who became a cop just because he had nothing better to do and
no other way to meet girls, the one who has become a knight in a medieval
restaurant and the one who has made a small fortune for selling the patent
on a new silent velcro (just like regular velcro, he explains, but without
that sound.) The old friend who opens his eyes the most, for
good or bad, is Mark, a 26-year-old gravedigger who lives for get rich quick
plans like planning to eventually sell his Desert Storm cards collection (if
he can get back the pilfered Wolf Blitzer card to complete the set), selling
admission to peepholes in a local hotel and pilfering from the corpses he is
amazing thing is, the more that he experiences, the more rapturous Braff's
portrayal becomes. He is a man finally experiencing life for the first
time ever (or at least since he was a prepubescent) and even when it hurts
there is a wonder in the experience. He also receives kind guidance by
a neurologist (Ron Liebman) who delicately suggests that maybe it was time
to find a new psychiatrist.
importantly, he is able to make a stormy peace with his father (Ian Holm),
the psychiatrist who has always deep down blamed his son for his wife's
problems (though she was a manic depressive long before the accident that
made her a paraplegic). The father's answer was to keep the boy
medicated, trying to keep the peace in the family, but only keeping a hazy
wall between them.
the film comes to an end, there is great satisfaction in knowing that for
the first time, Large is going to be equipped for life. It may not
turn out as he wants it, but at least he is experiencing it. Perhaps
that is the most important thing.
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Posted: September 6, 2004.