Now maybe I’m slightly biased when it comes to reviewing a film with my home state’s nickname as the title, but I think anyone would be crazy to think that Garden State stinks as much as everyone says New Jersey does. This is a simple story of searching and finding. It is a movie about finding love, a place to truly call home, and it is also about finding oneself. The film is a very promising debut for writer/director Zach Braff, star on TV’s Scrubs, as he proves that he is capable of creating a piece of artistic work littered with memorable images.
Sure, I’m a bit partial to this film for reasons already indicated, but in no way is this just another cheesy teenage self-journey flick about some kid finding puppy love at a drunken high school party. That is not to say that there are not drunken party scenes in the film (which are hysterical), but the focal point is not such.
Garden State is the story of Andrew Largeman who is portrayed brilliantly by Braff himself. Braff’s character is an aspiring actor from New Jersey who is living in Los Angeles, where he is trying to make it big as an actor, while holding a second job as a waiter in a Vietnamese restaurant. “Large” seems to be merely going through the motions of life when he receives a call from his father, with whom he has not spoken in almost nine years, informing him that his paraplegic mother has drowned in the bathtub. (Ok, so the movie doesn’t start out highly uplifting, bear with me, here.) Upon coming home, he not only connects with old friends, but also with himself, mainly due to the fact that he’s gone off his depression medication.
After a chance encounter with a lovely young lady named Sam (Natalie Portman), who is also suffering from her own various woes, Large’s world is opened up to the possibility of rehashing emotional attachments on many levels. Large not only builds a new bond with Sam, but he rebuilds the broken one he has with his psychiatrist father, and begins a fresh, new life.
This comedic film is simultaneously dark and romantic. My only criticism is the extremely clich?© finale to the film, which I will leave up to the viewer to witness. However, while the parties remain unchanged from the days of high school, and the dropout townies are still around doing the same old nothing; it shows the true authenticity of New Jersey shining through here.
I guess that is expected, though, from a director and writer who is an actor from the Garden State. Nonetheless, Braff is intent on making a film that is actually worth watching, and he is utterly successful in doing so. Garden State provokes an assortment of emotions as it takes the viewer through a depiction of self-realization in perfectly transformed baby steps. It truly is a beautiful piece of cinema.
**** Four Star Rating on the G-Scale (out of a possible 5)