Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Here's a remarkable tale of a prodigal son's return home to face his demons. I thought I would share with you first off what the film is about, since the first half does not seem to be heading anywhere. But it does, and it is surprisingly good. This is Zach Braff's first feature film in which he acts, directs, and writes. It is an interesting film in that it's not trying to be noticed with its simple tale of redemption and love. It is perfectly cast and no one overacts. The story is to the point and delicate. It has a sweet and tender tone. The writing is original, creating very human characters who are looking for understanding. It does have a strong dose of realism which provides for several detouring scenes that may make you go "uh?". But it works a lot more than not, especially from one remarkable performance.
Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) is a highly medicated, aspiring actor who seems to be haunted by his past. He receives a call one day from his father, Gideon Largeman (Ian Holm), who tells him on the answering machine his mother has died. He hasn't been home for nearly ten years but finally is motivated to leave for his hometown in New Jersey. But he leaves all his medication behind.
Andrew's life begins to take a sharp turn during the course of his stay. First of all, he not on the pills to since he left them at home. We learn his father is a psychiatrist who wanted Andrew to take the medication ever since he lost his anger at his mother, pushed her over a dishwasher door, and crippled her. Andrew doesn't seem to remember a vivid life before this event, but since then, he has become dull and zoned-out.
Then he meets Sam (Natalie Portman). Sam is extremely likable, and the two of them began to relate from the start. The relationship is not forced or cheesy. It merely builds the plot. I couldn't easily accept the fact, though, that such a lovely girl like Sam was available. Thank God for the movies, which can create characters we can invest our interest in and relish.
Andrew and Sam start on a journey around the Garden State. Tagging along with the couple is Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), Andrew's former friend, who leads them and introduces them to interesting citizens of New Jersey. This journey leads, basically, to Andrew's re-discovery of life. It's as if he is awaking from the nothingness he had know for nearly a decade. He confronts his dry father in the end about how he feels about paralyzing his mother. In a way, the whole film builds up to that moment, while also having time to balance his relationship with Sam and see what happens with that.
I mentioned this film is perfectly cast, and I know I'm right. Zach Braff has a perfect blank look and has a face that can tell more than he can verbally. Braff doesn't force Andrew to change but makes it a gradual, believable idea. He has a great character to play off of. Natalie Portman's Sam is so likeable and sweet, she seems to radiate the cast members she's working with. Her character is so alive, it might be hard to see why she connects with the melancholy Andrew. Portman continues to steal the show in whatever movie she's in. Her turn in last year's "Cold Mountain" was small but relevant and sad. Here, she garners so much joy, excitement, and good nature that I'd recommend an Oscar nomination.
There's a scene between the two in Sam's backyard. Sam's hamster has just died, and they're burying it. Andrew tells Sam the reason why he's in New Jersey is that his mother had just died. She stares at him for a moment with pure sympathy and understanding. She cries, and there's no apparent reason why she should but she does. For the second time in the past two years, I have shed a tear during a film watching the same actress. And I don't know why this time. I was sad over either the way Portman's character should be too joyful to know sorrow or the world's lack of such good-natured, understanding girls.
Ian Holm and Peter Sarsgaard add to the highly respectable acting ensemble. They know their parts and don't try to be seen or heard the most. Their subtle acting brings their characters out more. Much of the praise for these characters goes to Braff's script, which is smart, touching, and even slightly funny. Much can be said of the music that evokes the mood just as well as any music I've heard this year in a movie.
It draws comparisons, in my mind, to last year's "Lost in Translation". The chief difference is that in Braff's film, there's more talking. Sofia Coppola's film was very subtle and very moving without saying a word. And that's truly amazing. There were parts of "Garden State" I wish the characters would shut up and get on with it. The ending works in an acceptable and happy manner, but nothing close to the ingenious, famed "whisper" in "Lost in Translation". Somehow, I think this film could have rose to that level given Braff's screenplay.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good Date Movie
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older