Garden State

Awakening, love, carpe diem, and insanely quirky characters iced with a little emo all packed into one newspaper wrapped birthday present like the pet hamster you gave your sister for her birthday, but forgot to punch holes in the box. The first time I watched this film I was, as Natalie Portman's character "Sam" puts it, "really in it". Although not exactly on the same level this film has a spirit similar to that of the 1967 film "The Graduate", and Hal Ashbey's "Harold and Maude".

Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) is a struggling Actor/Waiter with one semi-famous film under his belt having played "the retarded quarterback".

Sam: Are you really retarded?
Andrew Largeman: No.
Sam: Ooh, great job man! I really thought you were retarded. I mean, you're better than that Corky kid and he's actually retarded. If there was a retarded Oscar you would win, hands down, kick his ass!
....

Sam: Wow! I cannot believe you're not retarded!

Largeman is coming home for his mother's funeral where he is forced to interact with some of his old high school buddies, other random people who have heard of his semi-fame, and his father. Before the trip Andrew decides to call it quits on the anti-depressants, Lithium, and mood stabalizers that his psychiatrist/father prescribed for him so many years ago. As Largeman wakes up from the 20 year sleep he's been in, he walks through a variety of trance-like, drug induced experiences, and meets knights, the bow-hunting inventor of "silent Velcro", Noah and his ark in the bottom of a canyon, his old friends who are now gravediggers/graverobbers, and a girl named Sam. Braff's character learns to "feel again" as he finally experiences love, anger, forgiveness, loneliness, and passion.

I loved the dialogue in this film.

Karl Benson: Hey man, I thought you killed yourself.
Andrew Largeman: What?
Karl Benson: I thought you killed yourself. That wasn't you?
Andrew Largeman: No, no, tha-that wasn't me.

This is one of the few films that I wanted to go and watch all the behind the scenes interviews immediately after finishing the first viewing which is where I learned that many of the mini-stories and characters were inspired by real life stories Braff had either experienced or heard from his friends. This film reminds me of so many stories from my high-school days and especially those awkward feelings you have when you bump into the once "star of the soccer team" who is now a grocer in your old home town trying to sell you on his latest pyramid-scheme while you're in town for the holidays.

Without a doubt my favorite part of the film is its soundtrack. Much like Braff's comedy on NBC Scrubs all the music was hand-picked by Braff. He received a Grammy in 2005 for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture. It's made up of tracks from excellent bands including The Shins, Simon and Garfunkel, Coldplay, and Colin Hay. The soundtrack is one of the most frequently played albums on my ipod. Colin Hay's "I just don't think I'll ever get over you" is possibly one of my top 5 favorite songs of all time. The eclectic grooves and blends of reflective acoustic jams mix together seamlessly in a way uncommon to this genre of music. Typically I can only handle so much emo before I e-blow, but I can listen to this soundtrack for hours.

There are sections that feel a little forced, and overly sappy-sad, and characters that are occasionally unconvincing. But for the most part I think this film is an incredible selection of memorable moments and characters backed by a killer soundtrack disagreeing with their fathers, and digging up their mothers, exploring the "infinite abyss" and learning how to feel amidst shallow and numb friends.

"Are you the alligator?"

REVIEWED BY: Chris Flanigan and posted by the Shea Train

Reviewed by: shea
11 Comment(s)
Oh, and fyi. I just posted a poll on my website for Best Superhero of all time. I would love to get some real superhero nerds over there to weigh in...

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Shea said...
I loved Garden State... I agree sometimes that it tried to hard but overall the music, camera, and story was all amazing.

"Good luck exploring the abyss!"

I fell in love with Portman again in this one.

Loved the party scene in the beginning.
Adam said...
Love this movie for sure, amazing soundtrack.
Paul said...
Guess I should see it :-/
Gray said...
I think what I liked about this movie is that conversationally and situationally I felt a part of what was being experienced. I have adventures in my life everyday that range from mundane to bizarre... and all of them have some uniquely divine serendipitous wit underlying the trail of connections. In other words every situation I get into is viewed as a component of my destiny acumen... my instruction on the path of life. Braff did well to take a day-in-the-life and make it hit some aspect of what many viewers would experience (shallow/deep community, returning to past, pursuing dreams, messy houses, messed up relatives, partying with friends, new perspectives from old views, etc.).

The time-line in "Garden State" spoke of epic themes within the context of a few days. Large was getting his epiphany while in the midst of past friends, family, town, and breaking through a mental swamp created by heavy psychotropic medication.

Another part of the movie not already mentioned is the knight scene the morning after the party. Not only was that well placed, but the running gag of having "Balls" written on Large's forehead, later to reveal a whole body covered with party-inspired graffiti during a cat scan at the psychiatrist office... amazing. Great writing.

Yeah, it sometimes felt forced in the subjects of grief and loss, but that's a hard sell (at least to anyone who's really been there), however, randomly enough Portman stepped up when she called out Large for trying to be funny with the eulogy during the burial of Jelly, her pet hamster. It was a quick moment, but real. The fact that Braff's character was heavily medicated and just starting to "feel" (personal nod to Equilibrium), is important to note and makes the other potentially forced or shallow aspects of dealing with death explainable.

How about parent issues... Skaarsgard was amazing (period) with his mom... the love for family with all its issues... and Large sitting there watching them argue, then still love each other... the reality of his own mom being gone emerging.

More to say for sure, but the movie's already been reviewed.
Gray said...
Paul... you almost watched part of it. Another time man.
Many props Gray. This is another big part of the movie that I really love... Even though it didn't quite so deeply touch my "destiny acumen" :) I have a handful of friends who go off on like 10 minute rants about this movie just like above.

I love when a film affects you like that... and this one has done that to A LOT of people. Just kind of "has a way of workin it's way under your skin" to paraphrase Dylan.
Shea said...
Gray... welcome to the party pal. Long overdue ;)
martha said...
one of my favorites. i think the soundtrack may have changed my life a little. definitely launched me into my present obsession with underground and independent music.

and like all of you, the movie was intensely affecting. for me and so many people i know.

great review.
* (asterisk) said...
Meh.
I liked this one too. Definitely had it's moments of sub-par acting and forced emotion, as you mentioned, but overall it's a fun and touching movie and a great debut for Braff.

I own it and watch it once a year or so, whenever my life feels meaningless.