August 25, 2004

Movie Review: Garden State

This was a movie I had been interested in seeing ever since I first heard about it. It wasn't for the story, although the subject matter did seem to be interesting. The reason I wanted to see it was that it featured Zach Braff. I have become a fan of his work on Scrubs, which I feel is one of the best sitcoms currently in production, and wanted to see what he could do outside of that setting. It gets better though, in addition to starring in Garden State, he also wrote and directed it. All that plus positive word of mouth, had me hoping to get a chance to see it. I wasn't sure if I would as it is an independent, lower budgeted film, the like that does not usually get very wide releases, at best I hoped the local arthouse would get it for a week or two. To my surprise it made it to the local cineplex, so of course I made it out to see it.

The film follows Andrew Largemont on a journey where he rediscovers himself when he returns home to New Jersey after the death of his mother. Andrew is a struggling actor in LA, working at a Vietnamese restaurant. When we are introduced to him, his very impassive, almost catatonic, upon opening his medicine cabinet we see neat rows of all sorts of medications. We learn that he has been medicated for a large portion of his life, because of an accident when he was 9 years old which his father, who is also his psychiatrist, holds very deep seated anger about. On his return, Andrew makes the decision to not take his medication. This opens up new doors for him as he starts to feel again, maybe for the first time, like awakening from a coma. This gives him a childlike wonder for much of the film. This not to say that he is a child, but he is experiencing a lot of things that he has not felt since he was a child.

Shortly after returning home, he meets up with some of his old high school buddies. Each of these people is a new experience for Andrew. Then he meets Sam and his world is really thrown for a loop. She is a new experience, an enigma which we never really learn much about. Even still, she is a fascinating character which holds the promise of something unique. Andrew's awakening continues as he, Sam, and his friend Mark, embark on an adventure through New Jersey.

I am having a hard time describing the film, as I found it to be less about the plot and much more to do with Andrew's awakening, which is a bit more abstract. It was fascinating to watch, as layer by layer, Andrew becomes more and more aware of his life and what is going on around him. Sam's background is not so much explored, but she is the key. Through her exuberance and wild emotions spark something within Andrew that he needs to discover in himself. Mark on the other hand, represents a past which he needs to make peace with. Not to mention the father who is willingly or not being avoided until at last he finds himself able to confront it and make his peace.

Zach Braff is a brand new talent to watch. The story may meander a bit, but it is never dull, always something new to discover. Braff has a unique vision, something I did not expect from him. The dialogue is fresh, acting excellent. It will be interesting to see what he does next.
Highly Recommended.


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