I wanted to love Garden State, I really did. I know now more than ever how much hype can kill something, so I tried not to take too seriously the heaps of praise I've seen bestowed upon it, and went in as spoiler-free as possible. Then I realized why, with all that I had read, I had miraculously avoided too many spoilers. It's because there is very little to spoil.
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I hate to come off with such a harsh start, 'cause it's not as if the entire thing is a snoozefest. The acting by leads Zach Braff (who also wrote and directed) and Natalie Portman is excellent. Their chemistry is startlingly real and relateable, and the whole idea of someone being "numb" to the world because of years of medication, it's quite intriguing.
But there are little people out here who are numb and yet don't take any medication at all, just wanted to speak of behalf of us. I'm all for getting out and living life to the fullest, but at a certain point, that can be the very thing that makes you numb. And maybe you can't turn that off. Garden State really isn't so much about the medication anyway, though, so let's just shut up about that. In fact, damn if I could tell you what exactly it is about!
It starts with Andrew Largeman (Braff) also known as "Large", lying in his homogenized room, listening without listening as his father tells him via answering machine that his mother has just died. With that, Large returns to his home state of New Jersey, where he hangs out with some of his stoner friends. Then he goes to his mother's funeral, where you'll struggle not to laugh at his old Aunt's rendition of "Three Times A Lady". He starts to see a doctor for these headaches he's been getting, and that's where he meets Sam (Natalie Portman). They fall in love, then it's time for him to go home. Okay, well maybe there is some spoilage best left untouched here.
This is not your typical movie, in terms of cinematography, music, and how that music is integrated into the movie. One song in particular gets played, stops, then comes back at a later time, like "Stuck In The Middle With You" in Reservoir Dogs. I did not hear one song I didn't like; that soundtrack is definitely on my to-get list. The visuals in the movie are pure gold. They are the kind of pictures you send to all your e-mail buddies because they're just that funny. You'll know them when you see them.
And yet it's tough to know what my lasting impression is going to be, because I think back to so many moments where they just sat around and talked about nothing for the longest time. One such conversation happens near the beginning of the movie, but during this conversation, Large has the word "balls" written on his forehead because he and the guys got a little too smashed the night before. No one says a thing about it until finally, one of the guys (who is dressed in a suit of knight's armor) gets up and says something to Large that made me bust out laughing. It's not like it was that funny, I just didn't think he'd be so blunt!
When Large talks about himself, those are the greatest moments. Right smack dab in the middle of the film is where some of its most profound moments lie, as Large tries to explain himself while Sam quietly listens and offers kind and unique responses. In those moments, it really feels like we are getting somewhere. The first time Large tells Sam that his mother died, just listen to the way he says it.
Unfortunately, it's as if we go back to being "numbed" when Large's friend Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) inexplicably "takes over". As is the case with most of Large's other friends, you don't really feel much of anything about their lives except maybe "Oh, that's kind of cool." If you actually have time to sit around caring about the fact that some fictional character collects Desert Storm trading cards, then more power to you. But I passed that phase a long time ago.
It must be the latest fad to take ladies out of rich roles and put them into wacky ones. Natalie Portman was once Queen Amidala, now she's the everyday crazy gal whose sole purpose is to bring the quiet guy out of his shell. Likewise, Kate Winslet was once the snobby rich girl on the Titanic, then in a little gem called Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, she was the everyday crazy gal whose sole purpose was to bring the quiet guy out of his shell. Except that Eternal Sunshine actually had a twist. Garden State just... doesn't. There is virtually no conflict except that between Large and the medication given to him by his psychiatrist/father, and it would've been nice if the focus had stayed there.
Some of the "lessons" are painfully extraneous, such as Sam's big thing about doing a certain bizarre combination of moves and sound effects. She encourages Large to do the same, just so he can say he did something that nobody else ever did before. But are we not constantly doing things that no one on the planet has ever done before? I've fried doughnuts at 2:30 in the morning while listening to a tape of myself saying "If he finds out I got Zelda, we're f*cked" and laughing at it. I'm sure nobody's ever done that before. I guess my point is that you don't have to consciously "force" your life to be unique when it's so much easier just to choose to see what is unique about it. That's half of what I love about my life, and I don't have to metaphorically kick, scratch and claw for it.
Anyways, I'm totally beating around the bush here, you're freakin' out, you're so freakin' out right now. At the same time, I must say that I shall never tire of the "live your life to the fullest because you can" theme in general, as long as there are new ways of bringing that concept to life. One of the characters lives by a huge "abyss", and at one point, Large tells him in a literal sense, "Good luck exploring the infinite abyss!" The guy responds with "You too!" Those kind of moments are exactly why I go to movies, and Garden State has enough of this kind of thing to keep it interesting. That to me is worth more than any amount of "flaws" I could possibly come up with.
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