|Garden State (2004)
Starring: Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Ian Holm
There’s one film for every generation that sums up an entire decade of social angst and eventual maturity that twenty-somethings believe their parents would never understand. Zach Braff’s Sundance surprise, “Garden State,” may not be that significant for Generation Y, but it comes pretty damn close with director/writer/actor Braff’s keen eye for filmmaking and a simple, truth-be-told story that’s more realistic than any other Hollywood joint.
Braff, “J.D.” from NBC’s underrated comedy “Scrubs,” stars in the semi-autobiographical story as Andrew Largeman, a struggling actor in Los Angeles who has come back home after nine years for his mother’s funeral. Emotionally numb from the array of prescribed drugs forced on him since he was nine by his psychiatrist father (Ian Holm), Largeman can’t even shed a single tear at his mother’s burial service. Miles away from his cabinet of little orange bottles and doctor recommendations, Largeman begins to rediscover his ability to feel. Hanging out with old high school friends who make their living in a number of different ways – Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) is an impassive gravedigger who just buried Largeman’s mother and Kenny (Michael Weston), who sold his invention for silent Velcro, is now a bored millionaire – he eventually runs into Sam (Natalie Portman), a childish, compulsive liar who helps the sleepwalking Largeman grow during his four-day stay in New Jersey; hence the title.
The story surrounding “Garden State” isn’t one all twenty-somethings have experienced, but it’s certainly one they can all relate to with rich images of life, death and love planted throughout the film. It takes a good 30 minutes to pick up the kind of momentum needed to drive a depressing character like Largeman through the finish line, but once Portman pops up as the cheerful love interest (reminiscent of her earlier work in “Beautiful Girls”), the film glides to its conclusion. Audiences will surely complain when they discover that the self-proclaimed comedy may not seem as funny as it really is – with only hints of laugh-out-loud humor sprinkled throughout – but Braff’s brand of comedy is darker than most, allowing viewers to laugh at some of the more depressing values within the script.
Natalie Portman is by far one of the story’s funniest characters and proves to fans and critics alike that there is still hope for the young actress who has ruined the better part of five years with the atrocious “Star Wars” prequels. Braff’s acting is respectable as the main character, delivering a performance that’s good enough for the film but not for an Oscar, though his ingenious cinematography will blow you away with a healthy mix of experimental over-processing and beautifully lit shots of a nighttime dip in the pool and a rainstorm journey through the city junkyard. “Garden State” could easily be called the best film of 2004, offering audiences a realistic coming-of-age tale that isn’t bogged down by Hollywood clichés, but rather lifted higher by an incredible cast and an even more remarkable directorial debut by from Zach Braff.
Fox has done a wonderful job with teaming up with actor/writer/director Zach Braff in bringing his ground-breaking film to DVD. Presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen video transfer and a 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track, the "Garden State" DVD has plenty of entertaining special features to make fans of the film excited about picking up this new disc. Among the best of the group are two full-length audio commentaries (featuring Braff, co-star Natalie Portman and crew members) that discuss the film's production and a 26-minute "Making-Of featurette that follows the cast and crew through the day-to-day process of shooting.
Also included on the disc are sixteen deleted scenes with optional commentary, a three-minute blooper reel and a soundtrack promo for one of the best CDs of the year. With so much bonus material offered on an independent release like "Garden State," the DVD release is impossible to pass on for fans of the film and is also a smart post-Christmas purchase for those who haven't yet experienced Braff's cinematic vision.