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Worth A Look: 21.64%
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14 reviews, 184 user ratings

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Garden State
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by Mel Valentin

"Flawed debut effort, but Braff is one to watch."
3 stars

"Garden State," writer/director/actor Zach Braff’s (television’s "Scrubs") debut film, mixes elements (and conventions) from romantic comedies, family melodramas, and the twenty-nothing/“slacker” sub-genre that had its heyday in the early to mid-nineties, with muddled, ultimately unsatisfactory results. The problem, as is often the case with young filmmakers, especially when they’re both writer and director, is an underwritten screenplay, whose flaws become obvious when the film turns from romantic comedy in the second act into family melodrama and a series of clichéd personal epiphanies.

Set mostly in New Jersey, the so-called Garden State of the title, Braff’s film actually begins (briefly) in Los Angeles, where Braff’s alter ego, Andrew “Large” Largeman ekes out a living as a waiter in a Vietnamese restaurant which seems to cater exclusively to the rich, the beautiful, and the obnoxious. Like his real-life counterpart, Large is an actor, but unlike his counterpart, he’s a struggling actor with apparently only one acting credit to his name, as a “retarded quarterback” on a short-lived television series. Worse than his failing, flailing acting career, however, is the double revelation of his mother’s accidental death and the audience’s discovery that Large has been medicated for the better part of fifteen years. In short, he’s emotionally numb, emotionally disconnected from the social world around (as evidenced by his bare, functional bedroom in the opening shot).

His return to suburban New Jersey to attend his mother’s funeral is attended by the expected awkward encounters and exchanges with friends and family members, none of whom he’s seen in years. Humor is provided from these encounters, due to the colorful cast of less-than-successful, post-college (or no college) slackers, including an old friend Mark (Peter Saarsgard), whose career trajectory has led him to digging graves at the local cemetery, getting stoned regularly, and partying with young women barely out of high school. Large’s numbness slowly evaporates over the course of the film, first due to his decision to lift his life from its medicated haze (he’s left his medications behind in Los Angeles).

Conflict comes from his cold, distant, distrustful father (Ian Holm, in a small supporting and undeveloped role) and the first moments of romantic attraction to Sam (Natalie Portman), an eccentric young woman who, not surprisingly, is the catalyst for both plot and the main character’s emotional maturity over the course of the film’s four days. Their first encounter is marked by the initial awkwardness inherent in the first glimmers of romantic attraction and attachment. Both characters are trapped in a post-adolescent, pre-adult stage. No surprise then that Braff uses music (and throughout the film) as the basis for their first encounter. Sam introduces Large to contemporary/alternative rock music (the Shins) that, hyperbolically speaking, will change his life (it’s not the music, of course, but Sam’s presence that prefigures change). Braff, with echoes of Stephen Frears' High Fidelity recognizes and exploits the importance of pop music for his central characters and his target audience, whether on the soundtrack (chosen by Braff himself) or through Sam's introduction to the "soundtrack of her life."

Where the film falters, however, is with the conventional revelatory scene between the main character and Sam at the end of the second act, when the effects of his medication have all but disappeared, and he can finally reveal the origin and nature of the traumatic event that led to his fifteen year medicinal haze. Unfortunately, Braff converts this revelation in the narrative into the almost humorless third act, which pales in comparison with the first two-thirds of the film. Like many writers and directors, Braff connects audience sympathy with the disclosure of a singular, life-altering traumatic experience, but he inevitably wanders into TV-movie-of-the-week territory: the tendency to convert a lifetime of neuroses into a single, reductive action or mistake, with the corollary that the main character’s confession of this action to his romantic interest leads to greater self-awareness, acceptance, and self-willed amnesia. It’s part of the stock pop-Freudian understanding of human psychology: once the repressed, traumatic experience is exposed to daylight, happiness (or contentment) is surely to follow. It’s a smug, simplistic plot development that leads to the third act, the confrontation with his father (a schematic relationship barely hinted at in the screenplay). Braff the screenwriter verbalizes the subtext underlying his personal journey (he even tells his father he’s been on a “journey”), and asks for a reconciliation.

Unfortunately, the screenplay’s sentimental turn in the last act isn’t its only problem. The third act turns on Mark taking Large and Sam on a day trip, but Large, now prepared for a more active role in the film, falls back passivity as Mark leads the three of them into a series of misadventures, culminating in a an externalized, metaphorical experience at the ridge of a newly discovered (apparently endless) gorge. From there, it’s only a plot turn or two until the main character and his romantic interest settle into the conventional closing shot. That’s not to say the final scene isn’t moving, but the potential was certainly present for better dialogue, which would have led to a more emotionally affecting close to the film. Still, for a mostly entertaining debut effort, "Garden State" is worth a view.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8529&reviewer=402
originally posted: 05/25/05 01:28:14
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Leeds Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Leeds Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/28/12 Omlopez8 Great soundtrack 3 stars
6/26/11 DR "I love indie films"...Great. Too bad this one is empty and pretentious. 1 stars
6/05/11 Dorothy Rozdilsky I can relate to frustrated relatives 3 stars
2/06/10 art I don't know which is worse PORTMAN"s exotic dancer in CLOSER,or this NONSENSE! 1 stars
1/31/10 Simon Yes,very overt,purpose-bloated,and slightly immature- but that gets this generation right 4 stars
12/30/09 Dave Worst movie ever made. Appeals to stoners, idiots, and the easily amused. 1 stars
10/12/08 Samantha Pruitt great movie, Zach Braff is so awesome, and i love Natalie Portman! 4 stars
2/09/08 mb Left after an hour ... it was empty ... lacked life. 2 stars
6/25/07 Bill Witty, intelligent script with great characters, and a wonderful, feel-good ending. 5 stars
5/08/07 Jennifer garden state is this poor fuck's favorite movie. and i'm not even from new jersey. 5 stars
4/29/07 Tristan The most wonderful movie that I can't ever get bored of. Those who don't like it are ugly. 5 stars
2/26/07 Asian God 94 Briliant. Inspirational. Hilarious. Natalie Portman. Need I say more? 5 stars
2/23/07 dbx laughably overdirected, pop-indie film. but some people seem to like that sort of thing . 2 stars
2/17/07 Nick P TO the people who didn't like it, you are wrong, Garden State is great, great acting &story 5 stars
12/15/06 Nici I love this movie. It is the best movie I have ever seen!!! 5 stars
12/11/06 Terra Landolt Freaking amazing movie, and I watch it on a regular basis. It surpassed my expectations. 5 stars
11/18/06 Kirsty Creative and Pensive...mildly life-changing! 5 stars
10/06/06 Bitchflaps Funy at first, but quickly degenerates into maudlin mediocrity. 1 stars
10/03/06 Henrik Fruergaard Hansen One of my personel favourite movies of all time! 5 stars
8/08/06 cico its so special and unique 5 stars
8/05/06 Doug Awesome 5 stars
8/05/06 nicklor24 good film, unique and interesting 5 stars
6/28/06 Ricardo bad movie, bad actors 1 stars
6/26/06 Kimberly I enjoyed watching this one, interesting 4 stars
5/03/06 Christopher Lindstrom Feel good and simply creative...good for sensitive types. 5 stars
3/23/06 Osama Are you kidding me? Contrived, cliched, natalie portman is god awful too 2 stars
2/13/06 Lea Dahmer Best movie ever, 5 stars. 5 stars
11/28/05 Sully excellent, excellent, excellent 5 stars
10/16/05 millersxing One must desperately search the abyss for human relatedness in Garden State. 4 stars
10/09/05 Ionicera good until he screamed into the abyss 4 stars
9/21/05 Fritz Light, likable dramcom, but instantly forgettable. 3 stars
9/14/05 Jonathon Holmes the best directorial debut i've seen since Sam Mendez w/"American Beauty" 5 stars
8/22/05 Naka Pulses with a ethereal beauty and sly sense of humor. One of a kind. 5 stars
8/18/05 ALDO real overrated hip movie that thinks it's slice-of-life and director gets to kiss hot babe 3 stars
7/07/05 Phil M. Aficionado Vivid characters in a reality-evoking fantasy. Read Kandel's review; it's mine, too. 4 stars
5/31/05 Scott Reynolds whimsical, light, full of real feeling moments abruptly shot to hell by a boat in a dump. 3 stars
5/26/05 Indrid Cold Gee, it sure is nice when smokin' hot girls like us ugly guys for no apparent reason. 4 stars
5/20/05 hl good movie 5 stars
5/14/05 Renee Tolson Love it 5 stars
5/09/05 zeitgeist Over-rated, but good. Pretentious in a palatable way 4 stars
4/16/05 sidman656 this movie has a vibe to it, a flow 5 stars
4/16/05 Michael Lloyd extremely good movie, brilliant debut for Zach Braff 5 stars
4/15/05 Carol Conway It was okay 3 stars
4/07/05 Lina Correa Great director, funny and "nice" 4 stars
3/31/05 craig varney this garden is in a sad state it's been picked clean of plot and substance 1 stars
3/28/05 Charlene Javier Not so bad. 4 stars
3/26/05 Victor Toledo I really enjoyed this film much more than I originally thought I would. 5 stars
3/25/05 Denise ok 3 stars
3/24/05 hannaho A good movie, but not exactly great. 4 stars
3/23/05 Colleen Goldrick Loved it 5 stars
3/23/05 Alice Colwell good movie 4 stars
3/10/05 The Talking Elbow Sign me up for those five star reviews. 5 stars
2/23/05 GS Over rated - Portman's quirky performaces weren't very good. 3 stars
2/22/05 re morgan cool soundtrack for sho 4 stars
2/21/05 Jeff Incredible film, hip yet introspective 5 stars
2/15/05 Bobby da Squid Fantastic film, top to bottom. Witty, sad, and real. 5 stars
2/14/05 ELI Totally one of the best movies of the year! I LOVED it 5 stars
2/12/05 Ig Great movie 4 stars
2/11/05 John Jankowski Great acting, and one of the best movie soundtracks in a long time 5 stars
2/10/05 Voncile Mayes Great first time effort but not without flaws, however I still loved this film. 4 stars
2/09/05 Maggie Beautifully done, good acting, amazing music, and freakin funny. A must see. 5 stars
2/08/05 Lisa Jochelson It was good. But I didn't get it so much. 3 stars
2/06/05 Kara Neary This is definately one of my favorites...the movie of our generation 5 stars
2/06/05 DM Holy shit. 5 stars
2/05/05 Amy Bradshaw It was very good, but it was a bit creepy in some ways to me also lol. 4 stars
2/05/05 Susan Chamberlain Very strange, but I liked it anyway. 4 stars
2/04/05 youreo More interesting watching Ms Portman's performance than flat Zach. 4 stars
2/02/05 Clifford C Gardner Pleasantly surprised - some of these kids can act 5 stars
1/31/05 april gupton LOVED IT 5 stars
1/31/05 Andrea Haresign I laughed, I cried... I wanna see it again! 5 stars
1/30/05 Xander The most beautiful, touching, and powerful film i've ever seen 5 stars
1/29/05 waldo Put a romantic evening together, some wine, some pot, and watch this movie. 5 stars
1/28/05 govenar Great beginning, then a little slow, but still good. 4 stars
1/22/05 Rob McKeown loved it... 5 stars
1/21/05 Uncle Phucker Simple but hit me right in the motherfucking heart. 5 stars
1/18/05 Z Amazing movie... great script, GREAT acting... good quirky 5 stars
1/17/05 chris. not many movie just make me feel good. this one does. 5 stars
1/14/05 TheViper The dialogue between Braff and Portman was artificial. 1 stars
1/12/05 jada quirky doesn't alway mean good 3 stars
1/07/05 Lucas Stenz Only worth watching if you're home w/ the flu 2 stars
1/05/05 ry the most original movie i've seen in years 5 stars
1/02/05 BobK898 Portman's character not believable, couldn't wait till it was over 1 stars
12/27/04 The Mockingbird so let go so let go just get in,for the effort of intelligent writing and honest acting 4 stars
12/26/04 Steve Strangeness for no reason; I just didn't care what happened. 2 stars
12/26/04 SEX PIMP natalie is hot 5 stars
12/25/04 Des Brilliant, i came out of the theater with a smile glued on my face that didnt go away 5 stars
12/19/04 fowle fantastic 5 stars
12/16/04 napoleon dynamite simply brilliant! 5 stars
12/16/04 Carl Utterback more genuinely funny and fun than any hollywood film about an estranged son burying his mom 4 stars
12/13/04 Bonnie Poon A fantastic film which explores depressed and confused people... like myself... 5 stars
12/09/04 xxx xxx 5 stars
12/06/04 Caleb Larson This movie was terrible. The script was artificial & forced, & the characters were grating. 1 stars
12/02/04 dave great movie. seen better, but worth the time & money 4 stars
11/21/04 Aisha Grace Beautiful movie. It made me laugh, cry and I simply just enjoy it. Loved it!! 5 stars
11/19/04 Desperado Apparently the last post was a blind dipshit, great movie one of my favs ever Braff rocks 5 stars
11/16/04 Jimmy Danger This movie totally rocked, I am so glad my friend "dragged" me to go see it. I loved it. 5 stars
11/15/04 josh great movie, like vanilla sky 5 stars
11/15/04 Zel :) this is my favorite movie ever. Gotta love natalie. Zach is great too!!!! 5 stars
11/12/04 Bairbre Ní Mhídheach Such a brilliant film, I'm still laughing at the different bits, it was quirky I love that 5 stars
10/28/04 Rick H This is truly a great contemporary indie insta-classic. 5 stars
10/20/04 Mike V One of the best movies I've seen 5 stars
10/19/04 Erik this movie is a waste of time and money 2 stars
10/18/04 Amber see it with someone you love, you'll fall in love with them all over again. :-) 5 stars
10/17/04 Rachael it's definitely the kind of movie that makes you happy to be alive 5 stars
10/12/04 Patrick one of the best movies i've seen in a long time. 5 stars
10/10/04 bill kaye Walked out. Bored to tears after 45 minutes. 2 stars
10/06/04 ryan it makes you want to fall in love, and if youre already in love, love that person even more 5 stars
10/05/04 T. Maj Deserves all the praise the dreary "Lost in Translation" got last year 5 stars
10/03/04 Ira Fell asleep twice -- movie a total ego trip 2 stars
9/29/04 LJ Life changing movie 5 stars
9/27/04 Justin Zach Braff captures what it is to be apart of this generation in a genuine and unique way 5 stars
9/27/04 BrianWilly Pure. Genius. 5 stars
9/26/04 alicia it made me want to die and live all at once 5 stars
9/24/04 Valerie Jackson One of the best movies I have ever seen. Zach Braff puts real life on the screen. 5 stars
9/21/04 Franklin Dam Incredible movie, fantastic characters/development - Great Soundtrack 5 stars
9/18/04 mar jones great movie, unbelievable how drugs screw up your life and you continue to do them 4 stars
9/15/04 Clare AMAZING movie; I loved Sam and the deep philosophical themes that this movie brings up. 5 stars
9/15/04 Ray Superb 5 stars
9/14/04 Michael Donnelly so far this year probably the best movie i think people of all ages can relate to this film 5 stars
9/13/04 jessie i saw it twice over the weekend, absolutly drew me in, the characters, moments, music, issu 5 stars
9/12/04 Sean Most beautiful film I've seen since Rushmore 5 stars
9/11/04 karedog loved it 5 stars
9/10/04 Jeanette like, the greatest movie EVAR! 5 stars
9/08/04 Leida Fabulous Movie! Very sweet and entertaining. 5 stars
9/08/04 Prospero7 Despite a predictable ending, the film is beautifully surreal. 4 stars
9/08/04 Jaime Excellent, I laughed, I cryed and I loved! 5 stars
9/07/04 Thom Lyons A scarely accomplished debut - outstanding! 5 stars
9/07/04 Ben Smith the best film since A Beautiful Mind 5 stars
9/06/04 Frank Lynch Worth seeking out 5 stars
9/05/04 gsfan Real and yet surreal, emotional yet unmanipulative, totally honest and refreshing 5 stars
9/04/04 Titus Beautiful and touching, funny and sincere. Great work. 5 stars
9/03/04 Kate Extraordinarily slice of life with a touch of quirky humor - fantastic. 5 stars
9/03/04 Desperado A inspiring movie, one of the best of any genre that I have ever seen, Magnificent 5 stars
8/31/04 Kyle Dude, this is my new favorite movie 5 stars
8/29/04 Gabriella Excellent movie. 5 stars
8/29/04 Tony Frost Almost everything a 20something thinks but can't put a name to. 5 stars
8/29/04 Peter James Touching and well done, also stretches past the traditional romantic comedy 5 stars
8/29/04 Brad Impressive! Great film. Portman and Braff had great chemistry 5 stars
8/27/04 Kate so, so very real 5 stars
8/26/04 Vitality1 Zach Braff has a bright future ahead of him 5 stars
8/24/04 Andrew Wright After being teased by the frou frou song & trailer, this came to town. I'm glad it did. 5 stars
8/24/04 FrayLo Great story, believable emotions. 5 stars
8/24/04 zora Every part of it was well done,interesting+indie feeling.I liked it months before I saw it. 5 stars
8/23/04 LynFisher Thoroughly enjoyed it except for the end, where I thought it could have been less predicta 5 stars
8/21/04 Bruce Lamb this movie sucks. It is totally predictable. Not funny, not insightful. Sorry/ 1 stars
8/20/04 Peter James This year's Lost In Translation 5 stars
8/19/04 Erik Intrigued by the preview and then wowed by the movie. Couldn't have been better. 5 stars
8/19/04 A F Amazing. Best film so far this year. 5 stars
8/18/04 Colleen Makes you feel good. Plus the soundtrack rocked. I loved the postal service remake. 5 stars
8/16/04 Tony Gilbert One of my all time top five favorite movies 5 stars
8/15/04 Sherril The movie is touted as a romantic comedy, but it is so much more and it makes you cry. 5 stars
8/14/04 KCobain Quite wonderful 5 stars
8/14/04 Michael Fantastic. I was really expecting a lot from this movie, and it exceeded all my expectatio 5 stars
8/13/04 Elena A little clicheef but very visually innovative and stunning 4 stars
8/12/04 Jin Best in show. 5 stars
8/10/04 jacob max winkler one of the best I've seen. truly wonderful. 5 stars
8/09/04 sam a indie version of 'orange county'.A little cliched but would be great asa series on the WB 4 stars
8/08/04 amanda this movie is fabulous. it's beautiful and funny and just makes you feel good. 5 stars
8/06/04 Kurt Great writing, great acting, great characters. 5 stars
8/06/04 Stryder So Good!! Reminds you how most modern movies stink. 5 stars
8/06/04 Bossy John I'm in my late 20s and this is my new favorite film. Ever. 5 stars
8/05/04 blah blah 5 stars
7/31/04 Kevin I threw American Beauty in the garbage! I've never been so moved by a movie! 5 stars
7/26/04 Jeremy Most moving and real movie I've ever seen 5 stars
7/02/04 Carlie What a Great Movie!!!! 5 stars
7/01/04 jeffrey True & believable story. Wortht the money to see 5 stars
6/24/04 Morgan Davis Simply a classic!!! Zach Braff deserves the highest of praise for his first film. 5 stars
6/17/04 Pinkline Jones Puts Burke's Backyard to shame 5 stars
6/15/04 Jessica saw it at sundance -beautiful, funny, imaginative - can't wait to see it again. 5 stars
6/14/04 Star This film is quirky, brilliant, funny, heartwarming and so crazy that it's believable. 5 stars
6/12/04 Bill Personally, one of the best films I have ever seen. 5 stars
6/09/04 Jeff Saw it at Rockefellar. Very moving, captured my attention! 4 stars
2/26/04 Betty White I personally found myself disappointed with the picture; well-written but overplodded. 3 stars
2/24/04 Mark Very funny stuff, similar in some ways to his character on scrubs 5 stars
2/06/04 brafflover Saw this Sundance! This is the best movies I've seen in yrs. The songs seriously ROCKED!!!! 5 stars
1/31/04 Katherine Saw the last screening @ Sundance, got blown away. Braff = exceptional, inspirational even. 5 stars
1/30/04 Boombah Baby Just fantastic. Loved every second. Laughed from the first scene. 5 stars
1/25/04 sam i too saw garden state at sundance 2004 and i loved it. bravo zack braff! jersey rocks! 5 stars
1/22/04 Andy Tarr Excellent Film 5 stars
1/20/04 Super Fan All the charm of Wes Anderson, but with a lot more heart. A classic!! 5 stars
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  28-Jul-2004 (R)
  DVD: 28-Dec-2004



Directed by
  Zach Braff

Written by
  Zach Braff

  Zach Braff
  Natalie Portman
  Peter Sarsgaard
  Ian Holm
  Jean Smart
  Ron Leibman

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