August 11, 2004

Garden State

Garden State is the debut offering from Zach Braff (best known from the funny TV show “Scrubs”) who skillfully juggles writing, directing, and acting credits. This is easily one of the most beautiful films of the year, and manages to come off pleasantly sincere without becoming cheesey.

Braff plays Andrew Largeman, Large to his old friends, an aspiring actor (known for his portrayal as a retarded high-school quarterback in a made for TV movie) making his way from Hollywood back to his childhood home in New Jersey for his mother’s funeral. Large has been “medicated” by his psychiatrist father (Ian Holm) ever since he was nine to cope with an accident that left his mother paralyzed. When we meet Large, he is the epitome of stoicism, on so many prescription drugs he can barely grasp awareness of his surroundings, but the death of his mother shakes him enough to leave the meds behind in sunny California.

At the funeral he finds he is unable to grieve his mother’s death due to how heavily medicated his father has kept him, or as his father believes, “until he can forgive himself for what he did to his mother”. Some high school friends turn out to be the cemetery’s grave diggers and invite him to a party that night at the mansion of a former classmate who got absurdly rich from selling his idea for silent velcro. Later, Large wades through the intoxicated crowd, seemingly unable to relate to anyone or anything. He downs some E, plays spin-the-bottle and wakes up with “balls” written across his forehead in marker the next morning. The medicated fog begins to lift and he starts to feel at home.

The next morning, after dashing to a doctor’s appointment, Large meets Sam (Natale Portman), a young, epileptic and compulsive lair who coaxes him out of his shell again. What follows is a beautiful character and relationship study, of finding home again, in this case, a home that doesn’t exist anymore. Garden State nods to other films like Rushmore and The Graduate in terms of similar character development and tone (as well as soundtrack). Everything just seems to click here, great script and a perfectly chosen cast (the best film Portman has been a part of for some time). Every scene gushes with visuals and Braff really shows his chops as he injects a calculated, peaceful symmetry to each shot. It really is a pleasure to watch a film where everything in frame feels scrutinized over. Braff has made a giant mark his first time out, I hope to see lots more films of this caliber from him.

Commentary (20):

1. Michael says… aug 11, 2004 | 10:15 am

I was quite amazed when I saw that Zach Braff was both the director and writer of The Garden State. Very impressive stuff! Having enjoyed three seasons of Scrubs, I can’t wait till Garden State makes its way to Denmark…

2. RJ Hampden says… aug 11, 2004 | 10:49 am

It’s wild when person you think of as a posable, funny face turns out to have so many brains.
I mean, look at Jason. Great review.

3. Kevin Tamura says… aug 11, 2004 | 11:37 am

This was one of the best films I saw at this years Seattle International Film Festival.

4. Tim says… aug 11, 2004 | 1:10 pm

How did the ending stack up against the rest of the film. The Onion A.V. Club reviewed the movie and felt that it somehow collapsed under its own weight. Anyone agree/disagree?

5. Alex Taylor says… aug 11, 2004 | 1:30 pm

Damn you for living in a select city! ;) I’ve been waiting for this film since early this year.. I’m glad it didn’t disappoint.

6. Jason Santa Maria says… aug 11, 2004 | 8:26 pm

Tim - I think it stacks up very well actually. The film really feels real enough. I have gone home so many times to connect with old friends after not seeing them for a long time and I can relate to so much of this.

7. niff says… aug 12, 2004 | 8:52 am

i also loved this film. it was def. the best movie of my year so far…and i see lots of them for free ( brother movie house manager.) the feel, the shots, the characters were so real in this film. i applaud both braff and portman. i wish i could thank braff for making this film. a breath of fresh air.

8. Stefan Hayden says… aug 12, 2004 | 9:18 am

I was fortunate enough to see it on opening night in his home town and it really was a sight to see. Such an amazing movie. Something people don’t talk about as much is the amazing sound track that hits each moment as strongly as the dialog. As the movie really does feel like New Jersey and it’s not just because it’s filmed here sine many movie are filmed in New Jersey with out that feel too it. Don’t know how they did it but I felt like I was driving around my beautiful home state.

9. Jason Santa Maria says… aug 12, 2004 | 9:23 am

Niff - Luckily you can thank him. Zack Braff has been writing in a blog attached to the film site.

10. Seth Thomas Rasmussen says… aug 12, 2004 | 1:27 pm

I’m too afraid of spoilers to read your entry, but I will say that I am sooooo freakin’ excited for this film! I *lurve* Scrubs, and the previews made me soil myself. No dialogue, just beautiful shots and a beautiful song.

Opens tommorow for me… can’t wait!

11. Hans says… aug 12, 2004 | 3:42 pm

First time poster here.. just to warn if any inpropriety occurrs.

I haven’t been to see Garden State yet, and it’ll probably not come to us here in Sweden for quite some time, but if Braff delivers somewhere close to what he does in “Scrubs”, I sure as h**l won’t miss it!

12. Merritt says… aug 12, 2004 | 5:58 pm

Yeah yeah yeah, back to ‘The Village’…doesn’t it irk anyone else that for a people who take pride in being all proper they have no problem ending a phrase with a preposition? I mean, would it kill them to say “Those of Whom We Do Not Speak?” Wayne, I know you’re with me on this one…

13. wayne says… aug 13, 2004 | 2:37 pm

Indeed, Merritt, I almost put that complaint in my post, but the punctilious grammarianism might have been a quality up with which people might not have put.

14. Bob Cieszkowski says… aug 16, 2004 | 10:53 am

Best movie I’ve seen since The Station Agent. Perfect casting, finely crafted story and character development, kick-ass soundtrack, razor-sharp wit, and Natalie Portman was just about perfect. Just when I thought George Lucas killed her career, she somes out with this. Simply amazing what she’s capable of when given a good script.

15. Seth Thomas Rasmussen says… aug 16, 2004 | 11:52 am

It opened here in Minneapolis last Friday. I saw it that night and again by myself Saturday afternoon. Bought the soundtrack, too. (What the fuff is with the giant-ass FBI anti-piracy warning, when did they start that crap?)

Holy crap, such a fine film, though. Everything about it felt… correct. I felt like simply affirming everything about it and saying, “Yes, YES, I understand.” Great message, great imagery, great music, great acting. Fine film.

16. Scott B. says… aug 22, 2004 | 11:31 pm

I saw the film yesterday. I thought it was incredible, and agree that the soundtrack was also brilliantly selected (I now have a copy as well). Braff really is talented.

17. Andy Budd says… aug 24, 2004 | 7:42 am

Sounds like a great movie. Can’t wait till it gets to the UK.

18. KAL says… aug 26, 2004 | 2:26 am

The obnoxious FBI label identifies the CD as one that will not function in anything but a conventional CD player, therefore rendering it useless to anyone who might happen to own an iPod or even Sony’s own precious NetMD pieces o’ junk.

19. RJ Hampden says… aug 26, 2004 | 2:31 pm

You’re kidding me!
The CD won’t play in a CD-ROM? How the fuff does that work? Totally ridiculous.

20. Donnie Jeter says… aug 29, 2004 | 3:01 am

I live in Oregon and the film doesn’t seem to be in any of my local theaters. It must have opened in select cities. Regardless, I am very excited to see it. Glad you liked it