Zach Braff makes his writing and directing debut with Garden State, one of the most deliciously funny and moving films of 2004. Sincere, witty and entertaining, Garden State is a film no serious moviegoer should miss.
Braff, along with his big credits behind the scenes, stars as Andrew Largeman, a struggling actor who lives in solitude in Los Angeles, working as a waiter at a Vietnamese restaurant. Pumped full of drugs since he was little to suppress violent tendencies he doesn't really have, he is a walking zombie - until his mother dies, he returns home for a few days and gets off his meds. For the first time in a long while, he begins to live again, through the help of an old friend (Peter Sarsgaard) and a beautiful yet strange girl named Sam (Natalie Portman). While his relationship with his father (Ian Holm) remains distant, he begins to bond with Sam in a way he never knew he could, and his outlook on life begins to change.
Plenty of funny things happen along the way, too. Braff, the star of "Scrubs," a show I have only watched once, has comic timing as a sixth sense. Reflected in every aspect of the film, his silent sarcasm and outlook on normal things in life is hilarious. Braff is able to make some of the most basic elements in life funny, and oftentimes he doesn't even have to open his mouth to get the audience to laugh - his blank stare is enough. He makes some of the most serious events in life - like death - funny without actually making fun of them. Best yet, everything in Garden State feels natural and smooth; there are no gimmicks or crazy characters to force comedy upon us.
I liked every aspect of Braff's performance, from the way he conducts himself on screen to the roles he plays behind the cameras. The film is beautifully written - perhaps even worthy of an Oscar nomination - and wonderfully filmed, with great editing and a flowing, consistent presentation. The other cast is also exceptional, especially Natalie Portman, who finally has a meaty role in something other than Star Wars. Along with Braff, Portman personifies the film. She is beautiful here, but not Hollywood beautiful - just normal, button cute pretty. Her character isn't perfect, but she plays the perfect girl for Andrew, a little strange but strange in an honest way (though Sam is an inherent liar). Sarsgaard is also good, but Holm isn't given nearly as much screen time as he deserves.
If my praising review isn't enough to convince you to go see Garden State, then I don't know what will do it. It is funny, dramatic, powerful and entertaining, everything that I was expecting it to be.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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