Weird New Jersey.
Written: Jun 24, 2005
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
- User Rating: Excellent
Pros:Quirky, low key, comedy with fine performances from the leads, especially Natalie Portman.
Cons:The opening scenes are confusing and disjointed, although most of it makes sense later.
The Bottom Line: Quirky, low key, comedy with fine performances from the leads, especially Natalie Portman. Yes, there is life after Star Wars. :)
Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
I never intended to watch Garden State. I was in the mood for some mindless mayhem and cheap humor. Something like Godzilla vs Karl Rove would have been right up my alley. However, when the CD I had selected refused to play, I was forced to fall back on the artsy movie my wife had rented. After all, it starred Natalie (Star Wars) Portman so it couldnt be all bad, and I do live in NJ, so at least the locales would be familiar.
The opening was quirky and abrupt. Disjointed scenes, some of which are fantasy (I sincerely hope), introduce us to the main character of Andrew Largeman played by Zach (NBC's Scrubs) Braff, a lonely and deeply disturbed young man in his early twenties. We learn he is heading home to NJ for his mothers funeral. Largeman has been estranged from his family for nine years, most of which he has spent in a haze of lithium and anti-depressants, prescribed by his psychiatrist father, Gideon. However, he has decided to leave the drugs back in LA, in an attempt to reconnect with his family and his emotions. We follow his journey as he wanders through some of the weirder parts of the Garden State, and reconnects with his mostly-loser friends.
As the story unfolded on my TV screen, I stretched back on the couch preparing to catch some much needed zzzzs, but then Sam (Natalie Portman) enters the tale as a young epileptic girl, who saves the hero from the amorous advances of an over-sexed seeing-eye dog. From that point on, the story works. Slowly, my mind returned from the edge of oblivion, and I started to mesh with these strange, wounded characters. Yes, the movie is still obsessed with odd people and weird locales, but it treats both with respect, neither trying to explain or excuse them. Nothing profound, earth-shattering, or deeply spiritual happens, and yet the three central characters each reach some sort of epiphany, not necessarily resolving their issues, but at least coming to terms with them. The ending when it comes, is wholly expected, yet satisfying, and vaguely hopeful. Overall, I liked it. I was glad the other CD was skipping.
Zach Braff has done a stellar job in writing, directing and starring in this tale. Yes, he tries too hard to impress and be noticed. Theres a few too many weirdoes, several strange places we really did not need to see, and more than enough unusual camera angles for any one movie. Yet it works. In its own wacky way, it all pulls together. Despite the subject material, it is rarely sad, but it is deeply moving in places, and frequently laugh-out-loud funny.
Of course, its Portman that steals the show. She imbues her character with so much life and spirit, that she carries the whole movie along with her. If I ever write, direct and star in my own movie, I hope I have enough sense to cast Ms. Portman as the romantic lead. Peter Sarsgaard also deserves mention. He manages to give his shady and eminently unlikable character, Mark, enough humanity and pathos to make him sympathetic. Kudos all round.
And does it all, finally, have a meaning? Perhaps. In one climactic scene, the three protagonists stand in a torrential rainstorm above a bottomless abyss* and scream into the void. Now isnt that just the perfect metaphor for youth? We have all been there, I think.
* Bottomless abyss: we have a lot of them in NJ, honest. Theyre called potholes.
The movie has adult themes, recreational drug use, and bad language. It is probably unsuitable for younger children.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good Date Movie
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older