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USA 2004
Directed by
Zach Braff
104 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Garden State

Synopsis: Minor Hollywood actor Andrew “Large” Largemann (Zach Braff) returns home to New Jersey for his mother’s funeral after a nine year absence. Having lived an emotionally-suppressed half life for years, thanks to drugs prescribed by his father/psychiatrist Gideon (Ian Holm), Andrew decides to give the pills a miss and see what happens. He hangs out with old acquaintances like gravedigger Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), stalls as much as he can the inevitable much-needed confrontation with his father, and meets Sam (Natalie Portman), who helps him open his heart to joy and pain again.

In following the relationships of the characters over one long weekend and the emotional uncrumpling that its protagonist goes through Garden State is one of those delightfully left-of-centre films that is modest yet works seemingly effortlessly.

Braff, in his multi-tasking role as writer, director and actor, encapsulates mid-twenties generational experiences in a way that most ages should be able relate to, with many truths about family, friends, the meaning of home, guilt and coming to terms with the past, being explored. There is a winning tenderness to this film, manifested in many small moments and gentle scenes like the burial of Sam’s pet hamster, or the visit to a couple who live in an old boat on the edge of a huge unexplored abyss. The “infinite abyss” serves as a central image and metaphor within the film, and it is in this context that the characters undergo what proves to be a epiphanic experience. Central also is the image of water which flows throughout the film, related to the death of Large’s mother and culminating in a major rainstorm whilst there are also frequent shots from above, as if we are all looking down on life, and pondering its mysteries.

There’s plenty of humour amidst the low key meaning-of-life stuff, and the three main characters are all portrayed with an engaging mix of affection, amusement and angst by Braff, Portman and Sarsgaard. And any film featuring the poignant music of Paul Simon and Nick Drake is already onto a good thing in my books. Garden State is a film to be enjoyed for its small and intimate details.




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