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Garden State (Zach Braff)

Garden State

Garden State (Zach Braff 2004)

It’s interesting and refreshing to see Zach Braff, who has played the goofy character Dr. John Dorian from Scrubs for the past three years, now in such a commanding position, both as a debut director and screenwriter, and lead actor in this summer season favorite. One wonders if this screenplay is in any way biographical: a story of the struggling actor Andrew Largeman in Los Angeles, returning home for first time in nine years under less than pleasant circumstances. The death of his mother.

As “Large’s” life story unfolds, so does he, free of the anti-depressants that numbed any sort of emotion for so many years, whether it be joy or pain. Finding it a struggle to shed one tear at his mom’s funeral is almost as sad as losing her. And having been away from home for so long, we began to feel the unrequited pain of alienation he felt from his father’s actions.

The story exposes us to the sometimes trite, childish humor many of us still hold dear, and how our everyday experiences are made much easier through the ability see the lighter side of things. And right when we’re laughing our asses off, we’re also taking a microscopic look at the human dynamic, at the simple and complex aspects of life, and the benefits and scariness of living with clear eyes and an open heart.

Character development takes us by surprise at every turn. Just when you think you have a person figured out, you see another side that shows color and compassion hidden at the beginning of the film. Natalie Portman’s character, Sam, is the exception. From the first few seconds of her appearance to the last shot, her spontaneous emotions truly spotlighted this young actor’s heartstring talent.

The soundtrack Braff hand picked acts as yet another character of the film, utilizing one of my favorite Shin’s songs “Caring Is Creepy” and even “New Slang,” which plays into the actual dialogue. Frou Frou’s angel-esque “Let Go” cascades perfectly into the dynamic of film, and I noticed others in the audience rocking their heads as each musical piece was introduced.

I am amazed at the way Braff sees the world, especially as a freshman to the filmmaking world, a world that gets mega budgets for funding another lame-ass snake movie or even “Baby Genius Two” (I can’t believe John Voigt would do such no brainer…I think I feel a Pink Floyd song coming on). His use of birds-eye-view cinematography methods alone adds volumes to the screenplay without saying a word.

There is a point at the beginning of the movie where Sam introduces Large to the Shins, saying this music “will change your life.” It was her character and everything about her that actually fulfilled that promise for Large. The film itself is one that reminds of what life really is, wonderful and painful, but worth going through everything in order to feel it all while it’s happening. Garden State is refreshingly honest, poignant without being sappy, and funny as hell in all the right places and in all the right ways. I hope Zach Braff has more in store for us in the future.


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