Garden State Reviews
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.
Maybe it was because of being very indie and low budget, or maybe because it was Zach Braff's first attempt at writing and directing, but the movie had a lot of lost potential.
I found the overall concept to be very interesting. A 26 year old man has been wrongfully medicated since he was 10 and been completely numb to emotion because of it. His mom dies and he goes home to the funeral and doesn't take his medication while there, and begins to finally feel these lost emotions that he's been missing out on. If I were a producer and someone pitched that idea alone to me, I'd be captivated and hooked. Then, adding Natalie Portman as the nerdy, epileptic, pathological liar love interest to counter the weirdness of the protagonist....it's a great combo and they had good chemistry. For people being so used to seeing Natalie playing roles where she's awesome, this is a great role for her stepping outside of her comfort zone.
Anyway, halfway through the movie the plot took a turn and on the "last day" Zach Braff's character is in town it just goes downhill, almost like they didn't know how to make a good ending and just did a normal one.
Back to the concept of a medicated numb man finally experiencing emotion, I felt like there could have been a number of shots showing him finally coming up for air during these experiences when he is finally feeling again and crying, yet we don't see that. We see scenes showing how numb he is at the beginning of the movie, but none conveying the transformation.
In short....Garden State = Average movie. Amazing soundtrack.