FBMR - Garden State
Film-Buff Movie Reviews

GARDEN STATE (2004) ***1/2

I really like it when a young actor proves that he or she is more than just an actor, whether itís a talent for music, writing, directing, athletics, and so on. Zach Braff, of TVís ďScrubsĒ fame, proves just that, not only starring in this film, but also writing and directing it. And it ends up being a very good little movie.

Andrew Largeman (Braff), a moderately successful actor presently working in a Vietnamese restaurant in Los Angeles, returns home to New Jersey when his mother passes away. He reconnects with some friends from high school that he hasnít seen since leaving for Hollywood nine years earlier. Most of these friends are living the stereotypical small-town life, with careers nowhere in sight, and working blue collar jobs. During his visit east he also avoids his overbearing father, who seems to want everyone around him to be happy, but doesnít know how to do that without prescribing them anti-depressants. And when your father is also your psychiatrist, you know that canít be a good thing. Large also meets Sam (Natalie Portman), while back home, and their quirkiness brings them together as they find themselves spending more and more time together.

Where is my life going? This is a question that I find, being in my late twenties, early thirties, should have been answered long ago. When I was a child and even a teenager, I always thought that by the time I was thirty, Iíd have everything sorted out, and be on my way comfortably through life. I was wrong. Whereas some people do have their life on track, more and more of my generation are struggling with where their path lies. And sometimes you simply feel like yelling at the top of your lungs into the infinite abyss.

Can you ever go home again? This is another question that figures into this film. I think the answer is different for everyone. Some say no Ö that once you leave and set up a new life somewhere else you find that you donít want to go back to your old life. Others say yes Ö thereís comfort in the familiar and in the history you have with the place where you grew up. Iím reminded of Beautiful Girls, another film that explores this question. Both have similar stories about a young adult returning from a big city to a small town as a result of a tragedy. Both lead characters reconnect with old friends, both positively and negatively. Both lead characters meet a girl played by Natalie Portman. Both films are also very character and dialogue driven. But the answer to the question is different. When it comes to life questions, I often let my heart take the lead. I say ďoftenĒ because there have been times where I havenít gone with my heart and it just ended up making me sad. So, can you ever go home again? My answer would be: go with your heart. Itís better to feel and to love than to be numb to lifeís experiences. And Large has a similar revelation when he stops taking his lithium. Pain, happiness, sadness, these are all part of life.

The cinematography is also quite remarkable. Braff has the eye and the ability to paint and compose some beautiful moments and portraits on the screen.

Another aspect of the film I really enjoyed was the dark humour. I found myself laughing at situations that otherwise wouldnít be all that funny. I often found that I was the only one laughing. Maybe Iím twisted. Maybe Iím the only one who got it. Maybe I'm just loud. Regardless, this is a great film!