MOVIE REVIEW: “Garden State” stars Zach Braff (Scrubs [TV series], Oz the Great and Powerful), Natalie Portman (Thor , Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith), Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass, Kinsey), Armando Riesco (The Chi [TV series], Adult World), Ann Dowd (Hereditary, Compliance), Ato Essandoh (Jason Bourne, Blood Diamond), Jean Smart (24 [TV series], The Accountant), Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory [TV series], Home ), and Ian Holm (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Ratatouille). It is written and directed by Zach Braff. Andrew Largeman (Braff) returns home from a struggling acting career in California to attend his mother’s untimely funeral. From there, he is reintroduced to his past and begins to discover what he has truly been missing out on in life.
The good ole indie movie formula, i.e. the conventional non-conventional. It’s that witty, sappy, sometimes full-of-itself narrative on finding oneself amidst a world of doubt, grief, and complexity. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but what film is? Of course, I’m a fool for movies like “Garden State.” It’s cinema like this that has me grinning ear to ear, experiencing a series of quirky, humorous moments, culminating to a memorable conclusion that leaves your heart soaring. Sure, “Garden State” does what you expect it to in regards to its genre, but that doesn’t knock it from being an enjoyable film. From the beginning, I knew I was in for a show. What an opening. Slow-motion shot of an airplane going down, showing all the passengers breaking into chaos except one: Andrew Largeman. He sits dead still, turning his attention to a little fan above him, which he turns towards him to receive better air flow. It’s fun, odd, witty humor like this that gets me going, and Braff chocks this flick full of them. His writing is solid, filled with many moments that, while some may argue don’t serve much purpose, offer great comedy and insight into this world that Braff’s created. It’s real, subtle, and awkward; I love it. You get a basement party where teens get high, a heart-to-heart talk by a big fireplace in an empty mansion, and an interesting hamster burial. From the bonus features, I ascertained that Braff pretty much filled the script with material he’s garnered over a his life up until that point, with a collection of stories both he and people he knows have experienced. It’s interesting to watch unfold, and I found myself wondering where Largeman would end up. He’s a guy who’s turned numb due to medications he’s been placed on all of his life, and only now opens up and explores what he’s been missing, feeling again. These bits of information are sprinkled nicely over the comedic bits, albeit the sometimes bare-bones plot. There’s quite a bit of scenes that were left on the cutting room floor (a total of sixteen deleted), and at times it shows. I would’ve loved to get more insight to Largeman’s acting life to have a better edge to his decision making (maybe a cutaway to his so-called great performance as a retarded football player?) as well as a few more moments to further flesh out Largeman’s secondaries, Mark (Sarsgaard) and Sam (Portman). Mark proved to be an interesting character who was making money by wrong means, and while it wasn’t of the upmost importance to see that come to a head, it would’ve been nice to get something out of it. Same goes for Sam who, while opening up to Largeman about her flaws, had some things on the table that could’ve been explored more. Granted, these issues don’t knock down the movie that much. The story could’ve tacked on some more weight, but for what it is, it’s a terrific movie. The characters are compelling, with great performances from everyone involved, and the direction is choice. Awkwardness is right in my wheelhouse, and the slow, socially-awkward nature of this story sent me laughing. It’s no surprise this was distributed by Fox Searchlight (now Searchlight Pictures), who is known for a particular independent feature style (“Napoleon Dynamite,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Juno”). If you are into films like these, you’ll enjoy “Garden State.” It’s the kind of wittiness I seek to obtain in my own filmmaking and, as I stated, leaves me smiling ear to ear. FINAL SCORE: 90%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: