Garden State

Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
Posted 01/31/04 12:56:19

"You CAN go home again, but don't expect it to be painless."
5 stars (Awesome)

You get this certain confident and internal "click" when you're sure you really like a person; it could be a friend or a sex-partner or even a new dog. That "click" comes and you feel warm and cozy and happy. That "click" happens with movies too, and it happened twice during 'Garden State'.

Zach Braff? That goofy guy from Scrubs? Yeah, he is quite funny on that sitcom...What? He wrote and directed his own movie? What's he, like 22? And he's the star of a great new TV show who went out and worked to get a movie made? With probably the first "real" money he's ever earned? Hmph, I'm intrigued. How's the movie?

Garden State is a great movie, full of bizarre wit and winning moments, laden with excellent performances and even a few good-natured morals. It recalls the great "early" rom-coms of Woody Allen or Rob Reiner; it showcases Zach Braff and Natalie Portman as two entirely lovable personalities; it gives the fantastic Peter Sarsgaard and the wonderful Ian Holm a few choice scenes to steal. Garden State has a warm heart and an acerbic disposition. It's romantic and nostalgic and periodically quite weird.

Clearly I really enjoyed the movie.

Braff plays Andrew Largeman, an over-medicated and aimless L.A. actor/waiter who is summoned home to New Jersey when his mother dies. Estranged from his family and a fond, distant memory to his neighborhood pals, Andrew slogs back to the Garden State and slowly starts mending some fences.

Time spent in Jersey is time spent away from his constant medication, and this allows Andrew to thaw out a little. Unable to cry at his mother's funeral, he begins to wonder if all those 'mood suppressants' are all that necessary. Toss in a reunion with several old friends (most of whom still party like they're 19 years old) and an endearingly tentative friendship/romance with the doe-eyed Samantha (as played by the doe-eyed Natalie Portman, trying on her best "Annie Hall" impression and doing a damn fine job if it, too) and it's not too long before Andy starts feeling a little bit like his "old self". If only he could remember what his "old self" really felt like.

Garden State is about those frustrating relatives and weird, old friends. It's about remembering what you were like before you "got busy" and being able to break down years of discomfort or estrangement. It's sweet and old-fashioned and low-key and more than a little comfortable; Braff's debut is a big, warm bathrobe of a movie. And I mean that as a sincere and appreciative compliment.

(But don't quit Scrubs, man! It's practically the only sitcom around that actually, y'know, makes with the laughs.)

'Garden State' is the sort of movie in which one of the characters admits to having epilepsy, yet it never comes up as part of the 'telegraphed plot twist' at the end. It's just a realistic little character trait; one that clearly indicates the difference between something written by committee - and something written from the heart.

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