Garden State

Garden State


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

"What do we do?"

These are the last words of Garden State. And they will destroy you.

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Rewinding for a moment, you realise that writer/director/actor Zach Braff's beautifully constructed (autobiographical?) movie is asking the same question all the way through.

What does Andy Largeman (Braff) do with his life after growing up in a repressed middle-class New Jersey home, medicated to the point of zombiefication, because of "an incident" that crippled his mother when he was nine? He goes to Hollywood and becomes an actor, specialising in "handicapped people".

What does Sam (Natalie Portman) do with her feelings, living in relative shambles with her mother, two dangerous dogs and a hamster that dies, having to wear a crash helmet at work, in case she has an epileptic fit? She tells lies all the time because reality is too painful and she can't trust the things she craves, such as friendship, loyalty and hope.

What do Andy's school friends do when it's over and the brutality of adulthood hits them like a runaway train? They stay in Jersey, smoke too much dope, hang with the same crowd, work boring jobs to stay sober during the day, party at weekends and DSC (drink, shag and crash).

Everybody's running and everybody's standing still. Andy comes home for his mother's funeral and is caught up in the cold, old rabbit hutching rituals that made teenage life hell, but when you're on anti-depressants, prescribed by your psychiatrist father (Ian Holm), anger dissolves and enthusiasm dies and you feel like a Martian, watching and observing, strangely devoid of human emotion.

Two things happen that change all that. Andy stops taking the drugs and meets Sam in a doctor's waiting room. She talks and smiles and says crazy stuff she doesn't mean and then says, "I didn't mean that; sometimes I lie." And he feels a connection in the lost world where lost people lose their ability to communicate, forever pretending, forever drowning, forever alone.

If this is a love story, it defies convention, because what Braff succeeds in doing is taking the audience into another room, where the concept of dysfunction has no relevance, because that's the very nature of modern existence. In other words, don't fight it, don't fake it, let it breathe.

Portman's performance deserves special mention amongst a laidback and, in Holm's case, controlled ensemble. She captures something so rare that it defies description. There is a moment in a girl's life when vulnerability has no protection and everything is experienced, as if for the first time, with transparent honesty. It is a unique, dangerous and delicate period, too quickly destroyed.

Sam is in that place and Portman expresses it with tear-prickling immediacy.

Reviewed on: 10 Dec 2004
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Garden State packshot
Returning home to New Jersey in a twentysomething haze of dysfunctional doubt.
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Director: Zach Braff

Writer: Zach Braff

Starring: Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Ian Holm, Jim Parsons, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Weston, Jean Smart, Ann Dowd, Diego, Denis O'Hare

Year: 2004

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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