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A new state of being
Garden State (DVD)
Member Name: sunmeilan
Garden State (DVD)
Advantages: Sensitive love story
Disadvantages: Too sensitive and slow for some
Andrew Largeman, an actor in Los Angeles, is stunned to receive a phone call from his father to say that his paraplegic mother has died after drowning in the bath. Andrew hasn't been home for ten years because of problems with his overbearing father - a psychologist who has ensured that Andrew has been on prescription drugs for a good part of his life. Going to his mother's funeral, he meets a couple of old friends and hooks up with them again. However, it is not until he bumps into Sam, a girl who is full of life, that he really begins to feel happy back at home. After his short visit, will he want to return to Los Angeles? Will he be able to come to some sort of understanding with his father?
Zach Braff directed, wrote and starred in this 2004 film. I'm more used to seeing him in a completely comic role in Scrubs and wasn't really sure how this film was going to work out - it is described as a drama with comic moments. It certainly is a drama - there are some really hard-hitting moments about drug use and mental health that are quite tough to watch. However, there are also some funny moments to lighten things up a little. They aren't laugh out loud funny moments, but are more subtle moments that bring a smile to the face a few moments afterwards. I've heard it described as quirky, and I think that is probably a very good description. It is certainly more thought-provoking than your average Hollywood film and the humour adds something a bit different.
Zach Braff himself was very good in the role. It is very hard to turn off from Scrubs because there is no attempt to make him look any different. Nevertheless, about half an hour into the film, I finally managed to accept that this was a different character - probably because he is a very different character. Andrew has many problems, most of which lead from a particular event in his childhood, and he is dependent on prescription drugs to get him through the day. He doesn't seem to have any proper relationships and there is a deep simmering resentment of his father than he really needs to deal with, but chooses to ignore. Braff managed to portray all of this with the minimum of words and, although he does suffer from being a bit too po-faced during the first part of the film, I think he did a great job on the whole.
Natalie Portman plays Sam and again, is great in the role. Sam is unpredictable and unlike anyone Zach has ever met, yet she manages to form a bond with him like no-one else has. Portman plays the role just right - she could have taken her eccentricities and turned them into something over-the-top, but she is very natural and infinitely likable. She perhaps goes overboard with the tears towards the end of the film, but I think most people would be fine with it - I'm just not very patient with that sort of thing. I was less convinced by Peter Sarsgaard as Andrew's old friend. He's fine in the role, but he's not a very likable character and I couldn't really understand the point of having the character in the film at all. That perhaps isn't his fault, but if he had been a bit more convincing, he might have been able to carry it off.
There are a couple of familiar faces that popped up throughout the course of the film. Firstly, Jim Parsons as another old friend of Andrew's. He played a character that was slightly reminiscent of his role in The Big Bang Theory - he speaks Klingon for example. He probably wouldn't have made much of an impression if it wasn't for the fact that he was so familiar. The other familiar face is Ron Leibman as Andrew's Doctor - he played Rachel's father in Friends. He's a larger than life character and I enjoyed watching him - it's just a shame he didn't have a larger role.
The story is actually very basic. It's about someone with a myriad of problems that need solving and just needs a bit of a push in the right direction. There's nothing complicated about it, although it is never entirely clear in which direction the film is going. However, it never becomes boring, probably because it is a character-driven film and the characters, Sam in particular, are very lively. I enjoyed the process of watching Andrew come alive. At the beginning of the film, he is in bed, staring at the ceiling, then he spends a good deal of the first part of the film staring into space and not really interacting with everyone else. Eventually, though, he begins to change a little and it's lovely to watch. It's a very gentle story, but one that is quite life-affirming. It is, however, one that will bore some people. There is certainly not a great deal of action.
There is not much that is obviously offensive in the film. The one sex scene is supposed rather than seen and there is no nudity at all. However, there is a lot of drug use, both referred to and seen. There is Andrew's prescription medication addiction and his friend has a somewhat more illegal drug problem and is seen smoking it on numerous occasions. The other thing that may offend is the slight humour that is fed into the script surrounding Andrew's mother's death - for someone who is paraplegic, or known someone who is, I imagine it could be quite upsetting.
I liked the way the film was made from a visual point of view. Andrew's loneliness in the light of his problems was particularly well dealt with by portraying him sat staring into space while everyone else around him went about their business in double-time. There are also some interesting shots in a local quarry, where a couple bizarrely live in a rusting old boat that isn't in water. It isn't the most colourful of movies, but then, Andrew's life is hardly colourful and I think that it matches up nicely. I also loved the music, particularly Simon & Garfunkel's The Only Living Boy in New York, although Andrew's aunt's version of Three Times a Lady sung at his mother's funeral left a lot to be desired - deliberately though!
There are a number of extras with the DVD. There's the usual audio commentary that I started listening to, but had to switch off because it was annoying - there's such a thing as too much talking. There's a collection of deleted scenes, which I enjoyed watching. They wouldn't have added anything to the film story-wise, but there was a humorous element that I really enjoyed. There's a making of documentary, which was interesting and definitely worth watching if you're a fan of the film - it shows Zach Braff in director-mode to great effect. The collection of bloopers is great fun - watch out for the dog humping scene and the Jim Parsons scenes too. Finally, there's a 'promo spot' for the soundtrack, which is probably in place of the ubiquitous trailer.
Garden State didn't make all that much of a splash on release, although it has gained a lot more support as an indie film since then. I think it deserves to be better known. It isn't a flawless film by any stretch of the imagination, but it felt really honest and natural - possibly because Zach Braff has admitted there is much of his real self in the film. It is also the sort of film that could be watched again and again - not because of the story, but because there are lots of nuances that can easily be missed the first time. The subtle humour is also a draw - although it won't appeal to those who like their humour to be more obvious. I recommend giving it a go.
The DVD is available from play.com for £4.99.
Running time: 102 minutes
Summary: A different view of Zach Braff