Review: Garden State (2004)

Garden State

Directed by: Zach Braff
Starring
: Zach Braff, Ian Holm, Natalie Portman

After learning of his mother’s untimely death, struggling actor and L.A. resident Andrew Largeman must return home to New Jersey to attend her funeral. Having been on some form of medication as far back as he can remember, Andrew has no problem channeling the familiar emotional numbness that came about as a result. Tragedy aside, Andrew begins to slowly reconnect with all those he left behind in favor of a “new life” so many years ago, meeting the sprightly, free-spirited Samantha in the process. Throughout his stay, Andrew struggles to come to terms with the feelings he’s been forced to suppress all the years prior and begin leading a new, healthier life.

Zach Braff is a douche bag. Fortunately, this flaw doesn’t seem to present itself within his career as an actor, writer, and director. To put it plainly, Garden State is one hell of a film, and the man in question is mostly to blame, seeing as how, first and foremost, the writing is as good as it is. The dialogue is snappy and always appropriate, and the narrative itself is refreshingly original, showcasing a sort of “dramedy” feel present throughout the film’s more memorable scenes, namely those involving Andrew’s interaction with his friends and estranged father, deftly played by Ian Holm.

As for the rest of the performances, they’re all pretty much right on the money: Braff excellently portrays the emotionally detached, somewhat awkward Largeman, and Natalie Portman is just stellar as the slightly immature yet abnormally upbeat Samantha, both of whom exhibit some pretty terrific chemistry with one another. Peter Saarsgard and the rest of Andrew’s oddball friends are all hilarious in their own right, and one of the best scenes of 2004 can be found in that of Andrew’s run-in with a newly appointed knight of the always delightful Medieval Times: “By the way, it says ‘BALLS’ on your face.”

It seems like nowadays though, all Indie films come complete with matching Indie soundtracks; something that’s proved itself to be annoying. Very annoying. With Garden State however, the music choices couldn’t be better, and furthermore, certain songs help bring each scene into focus in a sense, allowing us to essentially obtain a better emotional read out of the film’s more serious moments. That, and I just plain like The Shins. ‘Nuff said.

To conclude, Garden State is a pretty fantastic film and yet another refreshing take on a slightly hackneyed genre. Zach Braff’s directorial debut showcases a great mix of impressive screenwriting, top notch acting, delightful characters to aid it in this regard and a superb soundtrack to tie everything together. Since the film was initally released back in ’04, my general opinion of the doucher as a person hasn’t changed much since then, but I will give him this: in Hollywood, he’s good at what he does.

Rating: 8/10

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