Garden State: Only the strong survive
Who could resist a movie about one’s own home state? I know I can, because that’s not what urged me to pay the $8.75 entrance fee this time. Like the wise Roman general that I am, I have picked my battles wisely and surveyed battlefields far and wide. This time the terrain was familiar and well-trodden.
As with most investments, I conducted my research and gathered some positive responses from others. “This movie has your name written all over it,” urged my associates. I wondered how that could be with the ever lovable and always humorous Zach Braff at the creative helm of the movie. Starring as the playfully quirky, but always introspective Dr. Dorian on the TV series, Scrubs, I saw little connection between these two vastly different personalities.
After the curtain fell, I had a newfound respect for Braff’s versatility and ability. By delivering the emotional safari that is Garden State without getting up on the soap box or resorting to guilt trips while still maintaining a subtly positive vibe, Braff has struck the mother load with the story of a one “Andrew Largeman.”
Who is Andrew, other than being a guy who Mr. Braff admits bears a strong resemblance to himself? He is a struggling actor, like so many others in the promised land of Hollywood. With only one arguably bad role under his belt and an equally degrading job serving ungrateful yuppies at a Thai restaurant, he can’t help but wonder where his life is going. When his estranged father calls to inform him that Andrew’s mother had died, Andrew prepares himself for the journey home to Newark, NJ – a place he hadn’t seen for more than nine years.
In the several days spent in Newark, both Andrew and the audience comprehend the importance of that sense of belonging we often take for granted. Whether it’s playing spin-the-bottle while smashed on Ecstasy or futilely flailing one’s arms about in an attempt to swim, the movie shuffles the viewer through situation after situation where that alien sensation of comfort (or lack thereof) becomes painfully apparent.
However, Andrew does not arrive at any epiphanies by himself. After a fortuitous meeting at the doctor’s waiting room, Sam, casted wonderfully with the delightful Natalie Portman, becomes Andrew’s default muse and gingerly brings Andrew back into the fold of reality. Just two years, Miss Portman’s credibility took a few haymakers to the head from the trainwreck of a movie known as Star Wars Episodes 2. Yet, she manages to shake off the cobwebs and emerge from the corner with fists flying.
She is no less relentless in her coy pursuit of Andrew as the two quickly become inseparable and find more and more endearing qualities within one another. Her pathological lying and playful simpering soon gives way to heartfelt tears, adding a much needed bittersweet moment to the movie.
However, another nod has to go to the amusing supporting cast of misfits that maintained Andrew’s sanity in his short stay. In addition to serving up some much needed comic relief, their under-achieving, hedonistic lifestyle contrasts sharply with the banal existence that Andrew led back in L.A.
If there were only general aspect that I didn’t like, it was that the movie almost devolved into a sappy, after-school special about love. It was clear they were fond of one another just from the get-go, so most of the last scene seemed redundant.
Despite that minor mishap, Braff keeps it real overall, especially when it comes time for Andrew to face the very thing that dogged his mind for the past nine years: his mother’s death. Like Largeman says, “this is real life”, and Braff does well to leave out the maudlin melodrama. In short, expect a subtly illuminating, light-hearted experience.
If only reality TV were as real as this, we might be smarter.
"What kind of girl ...? Definitely someone cute. Someone who can make him laugh. But he also needs someone's who going to push him - someone who's going to make him do things he never thought he could do."
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