Projections - Movie Reviews

Garden State
Garden State
Starring Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard,
Ian Holm, Armando Riesco, Rob Leibman

Zach Braff has made a name for himself on the small screen with “Scrubs.” But, his first independent feature film Garden State, has a bracingly off-kilter quality to it, keenly able to suddenly change from comedy to drama.

From the opening tense scene aboard an airplane, Braff proves that he isn’t intimidated behind the camera. In a tale of self-discovery and romance, his expressionistic cinematic techniques find solace in post-college doldrums. Arguably, this bristling self-indulgence is an ironic homecoming indeed.

The director, who also penned the script, gives himself the role of Andrew Largeman, or “Large.” The moderately successful Los Angeles actor returns to his native New Jersey upon the passing of his mother. He meets up with former high school friends, including a stoner of a gravedigger, Mark (Peter Sarsgaard of Shattered Glass), who is a collector of Desert Storm trading cards.

There is an uncomfortable reunion with his father (Ian Holm), a short-sighted psychiatrist, who put Large on antidepressant medication beginning at 9. Large, it is explained, was the cause of the accident that left his mother unable to walk.

A neurologist, a fine cameo for Ron Leibman, helps get him off the drugs, and Large begins to see life in a different, less numbing way. Garden State takes place over one epiphany of a weekend and is definitely peculiar, but also winsome.

The 29 year old helmer knows actors and it shows in how he allows them to showcase their talents. In particular, Natalie Portman (to be seen later this year in Mike Nichols’ Closer) shines as a free-spirited epileptic who compulsively lies.

Whether a trip to a quarry to get Large a present, being at his mother’s grave, or an ecstasy-filled party at a friend’s mansion paid for by inventing silent Velcro, Garden State is often jokey. But all the sidetracking eventually has a serious end to it, as many Braff’s age may identify with being stuck in a rut and the loneliness associated with it. He has a visual sparkle in his first outing that brings something positive to much cluelessness and he makes the relationship between Large and Sam, as well as the film, something smart and special.

Garden State

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