Garden State Reviews
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I've seen this film numerous times at the time of this review, and it's one of my favorites. Every time I watch it I have a new experience, and it'll always have a special place on my shelf. I apologize again, this time for saying "time" so many times.
Upfront, the heart of this film is Natalie Portman's character, Sam. When she enters, everything just beautifully passes by until the end credits. This is her best role. I mentioned earlier that there are some less than stellar moments. None of them are during scenes with her in them (except for the ending, which I'm just not a fan of). Again, it's not ever a bad movie, but when she first shows up it becomes a whole new level of fantastic. And I get the whole point of making us relate to the main character's exhaustion with life through making the film feel less exciting before she arrives, and I do like that idea. But the problem is that each pre-portman scene feels like an excuse for a visual gag, or for Zach Braff to deliver a philosophical quote. Once again, it's never a bad movie. But Portman's character is just so well performed, and sympathetic and engaging that she's what really makes the film special.
I don't want to give all the credit to Natalie Portman, because every member of the cast and crew clearly did a very good job. Braff's writing is excellent, and the supporting cast is as well. And Braff's lead performance is really good too. His lack of overly abrasive or loud emotions contrast Portman's abundance, and that's what makes her stand out. They have great chemistry in the film.
It's tricky for me to describe how I feel about "Garden State." No matter what I say or how I word my sentences, I don't think I'm properly conveying how I feel about it. I guess I can summarize by saying that it's a flawed film, and obviously the director's first, but that's an attribute that I think adds to the charm. If it were a perfect movie I doubt it would resonate with me so well. It's a story about embracing being human, and the bumps and cracks in its shell allow that message to transcend the film.
Also it's quite funny. I forgot to mention that. Zach Braff swept me up in being philosophical.
The aforementioned writing/directing debut is that of actor Zach Braff, who keeps his directorial style simple in order to focus on character. Braff crafts a rather beautiful series of events and characters in a story that is semi-autobiographical to his early life as a twenty-something with little to no direction in life. These elements of Braff's life are mirrored into the life of protagonist Andrew Largeman, whose own aimlessness and emotional numbness is sure to be relatable to anyone who has faced a similar point in their life. Braff proves that he really understands this character not just through his screenplay, but through his performance as well: as the film, and Largeman as a character, progresses, Braff evolves from stoic to more outspoken, and is given multiple opportunities to prove his acting chops.
The film sounds like quite a downer, but there's a lot of laughs and all-around happiness to be had here though. While the subject matter deals with a lot of heavy themes, Braff also intersperses a healthy dose of humor into the film, most of which is quite deadpan but endlessly funny. It's never too outrageous, and blossoms organically from these characters and their situations. A lot of great moments come from interactions between Largeman and Natalie Portman's Sam, who couldn't be more different to the former. Her eccentric quirkiness sometimes rides the line of being a little too over-the-top, but Portman is simply too strong of an actress to let that happen, and she keeps her character grounded and very easy to relate to as well, especially towards the end of the film. On paper, Sam is a very manic pixie dream girl type, but Braff manages to subvert the trope by giving her a lot of development that, like Largeman's, has to evolve over the course of the film.
There's a reason why Garden State is a cult classic and a film that defines a certain generation of young adults. It's an impressive indie film with a lot of relatability, and a strong showcase for Zach Braff as an actor, a writer, and a director, the ultimate trifecta. Andrew Largeman may be emotionally numb, but you certainly won't be by the time credits roll: between the laughs and more somber emotional moments, there's sure to be something that will resonate with most anyone who has shared the same experiences of these characters.