Garden State

Andrew Largeman has been on anti-depressants and mood enhancers so long he doesn’t know what to feel when he gets the call that his mother has died. The one-time actor, best known for playing a mentally challenged football player in a television movie, drops everything and heads home to New Jersey for the first time in eight years.


Largeman may have boarded the plane with just the shirt on his back, but arrives in the Garden State with more personal baggage than the Hilton sisters at a sleep-over.

Garden State, which marks the writing-directing debut of star Zach Braff (Scrubs), is a finely- tuned character study that has a lot to say about the human condition. All jokes aside, Garden State emerges as a breath of fresh air in a stagnant late August, a film that not only has something to say, but does so in a refreshing, off-the-cuff approach. As the film’s triple threat, Braff is to be commended on not just making an assured debut behind the camera, but for making a film that should stand up to the test of time.

As the film’s writer, I was constantly amazed at Braff’s observations and depth of reference. You never feel that these characters only exist within the confines of the frame. As director, Braff has picked a winning cast who bring his characters to life. Each and every one draw us into Braff’s world, hitting just the right pitch to match the script’s unique blend of dark comedy and raw emotion. Once we become part of this world, it’s hard to leave.

Braff peppers the script with casual insights and bits of business that captivate us with their simplicity and honesty. There are revelations, but their design isn’t to slap us across the face but expose us to another level of the truth, and it’s this sincerity that makes Garden State so inviting. These may be dysfunctional people, but at least their not afraid to admit it.

Once home, Largeman makes the rounds, connecting with old friends (Peter Sarsgaard, perfectly laid back), new loves (Natalie Portman, sweet and engaging), marginal acquaintances (half the town thinks he killed himself), finally settling down for the much dreaded father-son confrontation with Ian Holm as the appropriately distant patriarch.

Braff is to be admired for making a film that is as entertaining as it is thoughtful. His talent and connections have afforded him the opportunity to create rather than regurgitate. He didn’t squander the opportunity.

JERSEY STATE OF MIND

Garden grows with care and love

GARDEN STATE

Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Ian Holm, Jean Smart. Directed by Zach Braff. Rated R. 112 Minutes.

LARSEN RATING: $7.00



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