Garden State (VHS, 2005)

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Garden State

Nov 23, 2004 (Updated Dec 28, 2009)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Great cast, original story

Cons:Too much profanity and drug use

The Bottom Line: Garden State is one of the most original films of the year. Check it out.


The opening scene of Garden State takes place on a passenger airliner where they appear to be going through some turbulence. The entire cabin is shaking and oxygen masks have dropped from the ceiling. Everyone is in a panic, except for Zach Braff’s character. As the camera slowly pans over the chaos inside, Zach is shown sitting there with a complacent stare, completely oblivious to what is going on around him. At first, this scene didn’t make much sense, but after you’ve seen the movie, you will realize that it sets the mood for the majority of the film and gives us a glimpse of how his character views the rest of the world.

Garden State is about a heavily medicated young man (Zach Braff of Scrubs) who goes home for his mother’s funeral. She had been wheelchair-bound for many years after an accident that her son was blamed for, so Braff’s character had very little contact with his family since that incident back when he was just a young boy. His whole life, he’d been taking anti-depressants and all kinds of other prescription drugs that kept him emotionally numb. After returning home, he is reunited with some old friends and gives up his prescription drugs for a while, then the world suddenly opens up for him.

The title of this movie has a double meaning. The obvious meaning is that it is set in New Jersey, which is called The Garden State. However, if you think about a garden, you may visualize plants and vegetables. Braff’s character is an emotional garden/vegetable state who returns home to The Garden State to grow. Brilliant!

Movies like this must have a love interest for the main character, and here she is played by Natalie Portman. They meet in a doctor’s office and her friendly but neurotic behavior is an immediate clash to Braff’s drug-induced lack of personality. Portman’s character is perhaps even more messed up than Braff, and together they embark on an interesting relationship. Their final scene reminds me of what the conversation between Leo and Kate might have been like if he had lived at the end of Titanic.

If Parker Posey is the queen of indie movies, then I hereby nominate Peter Sarsgaard as the king. He has only been in a handful of movies that many people have seen, but this guy is good. He tends to play sleazy characters but he always shines. I most recently saw him in the excellent film Shattered Glass, and although he has only a supporting role in this movie, he is great in every scene. Ian Holm (Bilbo from the LOTR trilogy) has a small role as Braff’s father, but I felt like he was underused.

Although I really liked this movie, I have two major complaints about it. First, the profane language was excessive and unnecessary. This easily could have been a PG-13 movie if it weren’t for the language and I think the overall message of the film could greatly appeal to teens. My second complaint was the drug use. This guy is supposed to be finding his true self by getting off prescription anti-depressants and the like, but then it shows him smoking weed and taking ecstasy. I would have liked it better if his character had not taken the illegal drugs.

Zach Braff not only stars in the lead role, but he also wrote and directed this wonderful film. He practically came out of nowhere and blew away critics and audiences alike. Garden State was produced for $2.5 million and was purchased for $5 million by Miramax and Fox Searchlight studios. In its theatrical release, the movie earned just over $26 million in the United States. Not bad for a debut. Keep an eye out for Braff both in front of and behind the camera.

Most mainstream movies are deliberately soulless and full of empty characters who seem to have only a few functions, much like kitchen appliances. Garden State stands out by being about a man who finds his soul and love and friendship and a reason for living. Definitely give this one a chance.


Recommend this product? Yes

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