Garden State (2004) (DVD)

GsI like Zach Braff a lot, so when “Garden State” came around, I took a chance and made a blind buy (buying without having seen the film) on the DVD, and, not surprisingly, I wasn’t disappointed, as a matter of fact I was shocked at how utterly accomplished Braff has become. “Garden State” is further proof to why “Scrubs” is such an underrated mistreated property. Directed by, written by, and starring Braff, he plays twenty – something out of work actor Andrew Largeman, a young man whose sleepwalking his way through a heavily medicated life of hazy dreams and meaningless benign events of monotony and routine and basically doesn’t know where it all is ending or beginning for him through his work as a pretend Asian man. And his medicine cabinet stacked through the brim with anti-depressants.

But when his mom dies, he’s forced to break out of his life and go back home to Garden State where he is forced to communicate to his emotionally non-existent father (well played performance from Sir Ian Holm), re-unites with his stoner friends, experiences a sort of spiritual re-awakening, and gains a new perspective on life through a beautiful charismatic girl Sam. Sam, played by Natalie Portman, is a character wise beyond her years and meets Andrew through a series of odd events one day at a hospital and instantly the two forms a bond that emanates throughout the entire movie. Braff pulls off their romance with enough pace to get the audience involved and actually care for the two people in front of us, and I actually wanted to see if they’d get together, or if they’d fall in love.

Braff works their romance in well with the coming of age story which is utterly bittersweet through the whimsical folly Braff brings to the big screen with so much charm. The direction is great, the script is so very good and the dialogue is so funny, quirky, and original. The conversations between characters here are never forced or trite, it’s always so simple but so entertaining to watch and Braff has a knack for dialogue here. Braff accomplishes something here that hasn’t been accomplished in the past years. You also can’t help but love the characters here including Braff who is so hilarious with his wide-eyed and shocked expressions at the life he left behind at home. His best reaction is when someone confronts him and says “I thought you killed yourself” to which he replies, “No” with a stunned expression.

He takes everything in stride and everyone in acknowledgement of how completely weird they are and winces at everything, which in turn makes us wince and laugh aloud at Braff who gives a great performance here. Portman gives one of the best performances of her career in an underrated role as Sam, the enthusiastic girl with a child-like sensibility to life with smiles and stories as she carries on like a ten year old looking for attention and acceptance. She’s innocent and adorable here, and becomes one of the best characters in the film. Peter Sarsgaard is great here with the supporting role of stoner/friend Mark who just absorbs the two main characters. Sarsgaard is fun to watch here as he is every movie, and I gotta tell ya, I’d watch this dude in anything.

Braff manages to make the simplest imagery look so utterly funny and out of this world, for example the one scene where a guest of his mom’s funeral made him a shirt out of the remaining wall carpet of their bathroom. The odd and utterly surrealistic images we’re presented with are amplified through the simply great direction from Braff, and the eccentricity that flows through the characters and utterly plain backdrop of New Jersey is so resonant and charming that you can’t help but smile throughout the entire film feeling as if you’ve seen a copacetic piece of food for the soul. Braff truly creates a film worth watching with a funny, sweet, and very well acted slice of life. Brisk directing, and a great cast make for a film that chronicles an array of charming eccentric characters and a truly satisfying story.