Garden State Review

Jul 22, 2004 | 3:01pm EDT

Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) is an actor in L.A. who has been so out of it lately the only roles he's been scoring are of handicapped people as he says. This is because he has been a walking zombie since he started taking antidepressant and anger-reducing prescription drugs at the age of nine. We watch Andrew slowly come out of his lithium-induced coma on a trip back to his hometown of none other than the Garden State of New Jersey. While the reason for the trip is to attend the funeral of his depressed paraplegic mother "Large " as he's called ends up riding a roller coaster of self-discovery through encounters with old friends and new loves. Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) who appears to be Large's closest buddy is what Dave Matthews would refer to as a "gravedigger " and what the police force would refer to as a "grave robber." Mark's thievish tendencies lead him Large and their friend Sam (Natalie Portman) on a wild goose chase during which time Large opens up to discovering new things thanks to his recent sobriety and the intense connection that he's developed with Sam. The only blemish on this kooky and unique film is its cop-out cheesy ending that carelessly ties together the otherwise exceptional ends of State. But the soundtrack makes up for it.

J.D. trades in his Scrubs for a sweatshirt Natalie Portman and some serious soul-searching. We get to see a whole new side of Braff through his slightly lost character Large--and love every bit of it. The dialogue between Large and Sam is so conversational it hardly feels like you're watching a scripted film. Writer/director/actor Braff's grasp of his character and the movie as a whole shines brilliantly through every last scene. Portman no doubt received first-rate direction evident through her infusion of audacity warmth and quirkiness into her appropriately odd character Sam. She does an excellent job providing the blast of sunshine needed to lighten up Large's previously gloomy existence. Sarsgaard takes control of his character Mark as well as his costars with a Jack Black-like attitude. Despite his mother's constant nagging him to get a job he is a proud stoner slacker--portraying his disreputable hobbies even more pathetically on the big screen than one might imagine. Every character we meet in State has a distinct association with Large allowing Braff's magic to extend to each actor in the film through his unmatched acting and directing skills.

The first time's a charm: Garden State marks Zach Braff's feature writing and directorial debut. Known best as J.D. the leading role on NBC's hit series Scrubs Braff's incontestable moviemaking abilities have been exposed all at once; he apparently connected really well with his costars as they all delivered worthy performances. On the film's official site Portman describes working with Braff as "really open to collaborate efforts." Even in a scene involving the drug ecstasy at a party in which Large is seated in an unchanged position on a couch for the duration of a night the music and camera shots make it one of the most memorable scenes of the film. Clearly Braff is a gifted filmmaker and the impressive State is only the beginning.

More Review News