- Zach Braff
- Reviewed by
- José Ruiloba a.k.a. Morris
- Review date
- Thursday, November 04, 2004
After aspiring actor Andrew (Braff) finds out his mother just passed away, he returns home for the services. Little does he know he will face his old demons, especially related to his relationship with his estranged father (Ian Holm). But a ray of light comes in the way of Sam (Natalie Portman), a unique hometown girl with whom he forms a relationship.
If you read the premise and can’t find a single original idea in there then you’re probably right. This sort of movie has been done countless times. But then, what makes this one so special? To tell you the truth, it is difficult to say. I guess it’s simply that it works, it has characters we care about, and it gets us involved. Perhaps it’s also because of the way Braff approaches his material, not so much as a drama, but as a kind of quirky comedy with dramatic moments.
Therein lies one of its small pretensions, but also one of its small pleasures: Garden State sometimes feels overwrought. Things happen that could only come from the writer’s mind, but that don’t seem true in a real-world standard. A doctor with so many diplomas that he puts one in the roof…, that just doesn’t exist and rings false, but on the other hand it does get a laugh. Moments like that which take attention to themselves abound, but for the most part they do what they have to do.
The real pleasure lies in something else though: the characters. Andrew is like a zombie. You could say his heart beats, but inside he is dead. He has issues that I won’t mention here, that have got him to that place. But he has difficulty confronting them. And then comes Sam, a free-spirited, one-of-a-kind soul that injects energy into his life. They immediately bond, albeit not in a romantic way initially. The way their relationship evolves is beautiful and touching. In a way, they complement each other because they are so different, but are looking for the same things deep inside.
As a sight gag, just compare Andrew’s room with Sam’s. See what I mean? And by the way, that whole sequence in Sam’s house for the first time is simply marvelous from start to finish. Garden State is at its best when dealing with this kind of real, human moments.
Oh, and by the way, I had no clue what the title referred to before watching the movie. And I had no clue even after I did! Now I’ve read that New Jersey is called that way by some, but the sense of place in the movie is kind of ambiguous.
My love for Natalie Portman is immense. She is such a good, natural actress. George Lucas should be ashamed of himself for having muted all that from her in his movies. But here Braff knows what to do with her and boy does it pay off. She’s simply marvelous, magnetic, bursting with energy. I just loved her character and her performance. Braff also does a good job in the lead. And Peter Sarsgaard’s appearance in a minor role is a pleasure as is always the case with him
Never mind that the movie is sometimes uncomfortably edited, Braff is a talent to watch for. He certainly made a solid debut.
“I don’t want to waste another moment of my life without you in it.”
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Other reviews of Garden State (2004): Groucho