By William Whitaker
Photo courtesy of FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES
Zach Braff, previously of NBC's "Scrubs," wrote, directed and stars in "Garden State," a tale of three friends and their tribulations in New Jersey.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, August 26, 2004
"Garden State," written, directed and starring "Scrubs" actor Zach Braff, is a pleasantly surprising shot in the arm that has me mulling over what other supposedly vapid TV thespians may have the ability to create a film with similar weight.
Maybe this fall David Schwimmer will start production on a screen adaptation of Celine's "Death on the Installment Plan." Doubtful.
A monster of a departure from his quirky, ho-hum character on "Scrubs," Braff is all about the melancholy in "Garden State." He plays Andrew Largeman, a medication-addled struggling Los Angeles actor who makes ends meet by waiting tables at a Vietnamese restaurant. His biggest role was as a "special needs" football player in a made for TV movie.
"Large," as his Jersey pals call him, has to return to New Jersey when his paraplegic mother dies by drowning in the shower. He has not been back to Jersey in almost a decade, much to the chagrin of relatives and his psychologist/father Gideon (Ian Holm), with whom he has a tense relationship.
The worst part of the movie is Braff; the best part of the movie is everyone else. Anyone who grew up on the East Coast will be shocked and amazed by the haunting realism of the characters. Braff paid obsessive attention to details, and it is evident in everything from the wardrobe to the Desert Storm trading cards they collect as "investments."
Largeman spends the majority of his time in Jersey with friend Mike (Peter Sarsgaard), a small-time schemer with a complex heart, and Samantha (Natalie Portman), whom he meets in the waiting room of a neurologist's office.
Portman delivers a wallop of a performance as an optimistic, eccentric girl with an unusual home life and a niche for bringing Largeman out of his numbness.
The surprises in the film are many (an appearance by Method Man?). The soundtrack is top-hole, overcompensating for Braff's flat acting.
If one can look past his self-aggrandizing, trite, boo-hoo meanderings, the film is impressive. Yet again, Braff legitimizes his protagonist's disposition by heaping a mountain of psychological demons upon him, all the while reminding the viewer that he has never really "felt anything."
Together, Andrew Largeman and his pals help each other reach low-grade epiphanies and possibly set them on new life courses.
As they say in Jersey: Buy a friggin' ticket already, ya filthy bastard.