Monday, August 11, 2014

Movie Review: "Garden State" (2004)

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Movie"Garden State"
Director: Zach Braff
Year: 2004
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) didn't have the best childhood. His psychiatrist father Gideon (Ian Holm) put Andrew on medication to "make him happy" starting at age 9 following a horrible accident involving a 1/2 inch piece of plastic. Now in his mid-twenties, Andrew is a small-time actor who has just learned that his mother has died. He has to travel home to New Jersey, somewhere he hasn't been in almost a decade. While he is there, he reconnects with many old friends, including Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), who now digs graves for a living. Andrew learns that a lot of his friends are now druggies, burnouts or losers. Andrew also meets some new friends, particularly an intriguing and quirky woman named Sam (Natalie Portman), who he immediately connects with as the two begin to fall in love over mutual self-discovery.

Perhaps known for the iconic scene on the above movie poster, "Garden State" manages to get a lot right, though it still comes off a bit pretentious at times. Zach Braff makes a splendid effort in this, his directorial and writing debut. The last time I watched this movie was right when it came out on DVD, so over a decade ago. I guess I must have really connected with this movie at the time and still do to an extent, but upon viewing it again, it seems a bit more forced and cliched than it did when I was 18 and didn't know any better about the world. The acting is extremely wonderful, that cannot be denied. From the zonked-out, almost emotionless portrayal by Braff as main character Andrew, you as the viewer get a sense of a time when it was commonplace to put "problem" kids on drugs and wash your hands of them. Instead of actually looking at the problem and dealing with it head-on, Andrew is given countless years worth of prescription pills by his father and then shipped off to boarding school. Well, Braff manages to play this role nearly perfectly and in doing so, we are allowed to see Andrew's transformation and search for self-discovery. Natalie Portman does a brilliant job as Sam, a multi-layered pathological liar and a mess of a person, but has a big heart and and old soul. At first, she seems like your average dimwit, but there's a little more depth as the truth about herself starts to get revealed. Peter Sarsgaard also puts on a great performance. He has a knack for this certain type of character, one who is sort of seedy, kind of a jerk, but there's also a strange likability to him. In the end, his true intentions are revealed as well.

The theme of this movie is all about finding yourself, but it is also about how life is one, big, gigantic and enigmatic mix of pain and sorrow and happiness and love, an infinite abyss. It's a late coming-of-age tale since the main character spends much of his life drugged up, emotionless, and not knowing what the hell to do or who he really is as a person. The soundtrack is telling of the time and pretty awesome to boot. Though the plot seems a bit lacking, there really is more than meets the eye to this movie, though not without its flaws.

My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 86%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!
One year ago, we were watching: "Oz the Great and Powerful"

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