Garden State review by Cinema Guru Boy

So, it seems there is a world of differences between Jersey and LA. And not a single studio wanted to make that connection. Zach Braff, of Scrubs fame, was turned down by every major studio to finance his first motion picture. Thankfully, Jersey films and Zach Braff found common footing, that both wanted to make a movie in Jersey, which neither has ever done before.

So first time writer-director Braff constructed a film derived from episodes of his own life, as well as things that happened to his cousin's ex-girlfriend's roomate's uncle. He put these happenstances together amongst a single plotline and what resulted was the film Garden State. This was a creative little film, not really venturing away from anything we've never seen before, but contained enough heart and enough laughs to make the audience care about what happens next.

It's tough to explain really what this film is about, as it's really more of a thematic piece, rather than a plot piece, and isn't exactly organized into three acts. Can you really sum up the essence of The Graduate or Lost In Translation into a paragraph? These are every bit as much about style as substace, and mood cannot be conveyed through words. And like Translation or Magnolia, this thematic piece will probably not be as popular with the masses as it is with critics. But the general jist of the film depicts a man in his late 20s by the name of Largeman (Braff) who is an aspiring actor in LA with one moderately successful made-for-TV movie under his belt. His father (Ian Holm), from whom he is somewhat estranged, calls him to tell him his mother has just died. So Largeman travels back to Jersey for the funeral and stays a couple of days to maybe reconnect with who he used to be. From here, he hangs out with a eccentric collection of colorful characters like his friend from high school, the con artist/thief with the heart of gold Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) and a new friend, the pathological liar Sam (Natalie Portman). I suppose what follows is an emotional journey for Largeman, trying to find himself, the real him, upon kicking his medication, a jumble of everything from lithium to prozak. It's one of those coming-of-age self-discovery movies.

It opens with a dreamy sequence, complete with ironic music that doesn't match the action of the film, although it's not a dream sequence, it's Largeman's altered reality being affected by prescription drugs. This scene is followed by a scene in his bedroom, decked out entirely in insane-asylum white, of Largeman listening to his father's answering maching message. There's still something a little off center of reality about this scene, maybe this is representative of Largeman's disconnection with the world, especially upon finding out about his mother's death. Braff actually uses this all-white art decor multiple times in the beginning of the film, not only in his Califonia bedroom, but in his bathroom and in his parents' living room. However, that technique is soon abandoned, assumingly in conjunction with the abandonment of Largeman's drugs, thus his feeling of numbness. As the film goes on, the technique of using ironic music persists, usually it's something along the lines of modern folk music, but I start to wonder maybe it's not used ironically, and maybe this is to reflect Largeman's constantly mellow mood, regardless of the situation. As we come to understand Largeman, we come to understand the film.

Garden State is more than just melodrama about a man-child who is disconnected from his parents, it's actually a very quirky comedy. Sometimes the balence between comedy and drama seems a bit awkward, but that's okay, because it seems to work for the film's benefit. The bulk of the plot isn't even with his parents, it's with his unlikeable burn out friends. He finds that they're all still trying to live that high school life. Everyone still lives with their parents, with the exception of the one friend who made a killing off an invention and is living the slacker life off the proceeds of his patent. Everyone is still partying like they were in high school, trying to score with teenaged girls and indulging in intoxicating substances. It's a sad, sad depiction of my generation. However, Braff's interpretation of the point of view of someone under the influence is absolutely amazing, capturing that feeling of surrealness.

Zach Braff has proved himself a filmmaker, much to my surprise. Who knew the lead of a goofy sitcom was actually a talented visual director? Regardless of having very few empathetic characters, Braff crafted a well-made film we don't often see from a rookie writer-director. Hopefully, he won't contract Matt-and-Ben-itis and only use his gift of acting, but instead will continue to work behind the camera, too.

9 out of 10 Jackasses
blog comments powered by Disqus