Garden State (2004)
"You know that point in your life when you realize that the house that you grew up in isn't really your home anymore?" Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff), along with millions of American twentysomethings, has reached that point. He has returned home to New Jersey for the first time in nine years for his mother's funeral, except all he's found is the house he used to live in; no home in sight.
In L.A., he is a Z-list actor, obscurely known to some as a mentally-challenged quarterback in a bad TV movie. Listless is an understatement of Andrew's sedated life. That is, until he meets a young lady named Sam (Natalie Portman), who at first seems his opposite, what with her outgoing nature and tendency to lie for no reason, but as we get to know them better, we find out that they want the same things.
Throughout the film, Andrew runs into people who may have been his friends years ago, but are now just people that he used to know. Most notably among these is Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), a grave digger with big plans, but no ambition to carry them out. In fact, it seems like a lot of Andrew's old acquaintances are exactly the same way - and he's not much better. Meanwhile, Andrew's father (Ian Holm) wonders what happened to the happy son he had, but Andrew wonders where his father got the idea that he was happy once.
First-time writer-director Zach Braff has crafted an excellent film that I think perfectly captures the feelings of restless youth. Nothing can be done fast enough for us. Can't wait to get out of the house. Can't wait to be rich and famous. We want to be Large Men. Except while we're doing all this rushing around, we cut ourselves off from the lives we could be living, and turn around nine years later and wonder what happened to the life we thought we'd have.
The performances, in my opinion, are brilliant, in that they are subtly nuanced. They take what in a lesser movie would be stereotypical characters and turn them into real live people that you might know. You may have even had some of the same conversations that they have. I think that in 20 years, we may look back on this film when we want to remember what we were thinking in 2004.
Braff has a bright future ahead of him if he continues to make films. He is able to shift between comedy and poignancy at the drop of a dime, and doesn't cheat to get the desired effect. That's not as easy as it sounds or as he makes it look.
January 26, 2005