Garden State (2004)

garden state IMDb

I remember liking this film a lot more than I did when I watched it for the blog. I have always been a huge fan of Zach Braff from his days as JD on Scrubs, and I have shown my appreciation for Natalie Portman multiple times in my past reviews, but Garden State doesn’t really grab me anymore. I can appreciate it as a film, it is very well made, especially considering this is the directorial debut of Braff, but something is missing that prevents it from being a really great film. The characters are not that likeable, I found that to be a bit of a problem. How am I meant to care about these characters and their issues if I don’t even like them?

Garden State follows Andrew Largeman (Braff), he has returned home from Los Angeles to attend the funeral of his mother. While he is home, Andrew decides to stop taking his bipolar medication to see if he can notice the difference. During his trip, he catches up with old friends, and sparks up a new relationship with a compulsive liar, Sam (Portman). His new relationship helps him figure out a bit about life and also reconnect with his father (Bilbo Baggins), the man who put him on medication as a child.

This film is loosely based on Braff’s own experiences returning home after being a struggling actor for a few years in Hollywood. I’d be interested to know how much of this is true. His relationship with Sam seems forced, I was really struggling to see what attracted him to her. She lied to him at every opportunity, if it was me, I’d be hard pressed to ever trust a word she said.

Garden State is a decent film, well acted by Braff and Portman. The two have good chemistry together, I’d have preferred it if the two were more likeable people.

Rating: C+

This is one of those movies that people have been recommending to me for years, and now that I’ve finally watched it I can’t understand why. To be fair, it was mostly suggested between the years of 2004 to 2007. I’ve grown up a lot since then, as have the people telling me this was a good movie. Perhaps I’d have been totally into this as young twenty-something, but as a late twenty-something I think I’ve already outgrown it.

The main theme of Garden State is returning home only to discover you don’t fit into that world anymore. It’s a common movie theme, and one that has been done much better before (i.e. The Graduate). I have no problem with Hollywood recycling literary themes, but the result should be entertaining and feel fresh. This film is so incredibly boring and stale that it’s not even funny– though it tries really, really hard to be funny when it isn’t being melodramatic or cliche.

This movie simply tries too hard at everything and fails miserably at it all. The dialogue is too moody and self-reflective, to the point where I was taken out of the story because nobody talks like this in real life. Nearly every character is quirky to the point of ridiculousness, with Natalie Portman ruling them all as the stock “manic pixie dream girl” sent to save Zach Braff from ¬†his quarter-life crisis. The symbolism is so forced that it’s maddening. At one point the characters are literally screaming into an abyss. I get that that’s what your twenties sometimes feel like, but come on. Subtlety is an art Braff had clearly not mastered yet.

It seems that Garden State is a film that is best viewed during that confusing post-high school/college time of life when everything is confusing and emotional. After that, it comes across as pretentious and juvenile. You know, the way a lot of young twenty-somethings sound.

Rating: D

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