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August 16, 2004 - Image 12

Resource type:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2004-08-16

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By Puja Kumar
Daily Arts Writer
"Is it funny?"
About most movies, this is an easy
question to answer. Most films can be
judged by their wit on a straightfor-
ward, physical
level: How many Garden State
times did you
laugh? "Garden At Main Art Theater
State," however, Royal Oak
is an entirely
different affair. Fox Searchlight
While there
are clearly funny parts, there is an
undercurrent to the film so sincere that
the final taste the film leaves lingers
somewhere between extreme hilar-
ity and sobering gravity. Such tenu-
ous lingering is what characterizes
the main character, Andrew "Large"
Largeman, played by the Zach Braff
("Scrubs") who also wrote and direct-
ed the film. Braff is the man behind
- and in front of - this tragicomic
film, which looks at modern New Jer-
sey with a healthy dose of comedy
and ridicule.
After 10 years of Los Angeles act-
ing endeavors, a frustrated and lack-
luster Large returns to his native state
for his mother's funeral. Sedated since
childhood with drugs prescribed by
his psychiatrist father (Ian Holm,
"Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship
of the Ring"), Large weans himself
off anti-depressants during his week-
end at home. Even more of Large's
mind-fog is lifted when he meets
quirky local Sam (Natalie Portman,
"Cold Mountain"), who helps Large

Uh, mind getting offa me? You're soaking wet.

Denis O'Hare ("21 Grams"), add to
the expert timing and energy of the
As a directorial and screen writ-
ing debut, "Garden State" stands as
a testimony of Braff's behind-the-
camera abilities. Working within the
confines of a small budget, the film
still manages to boast deceptively-
fancy intervelomiter camera work
and a couple of spectacular crane
shots. Transitions at times appear a bit
stilted, but, whether intentional or not
they provided a sense of the disjoint-
edness to the environment in which
Large lived.
The script, which is full of young
and clever dialogue, guides the film
and is responsible for its bittersweet
mood. Copious amounts of symbol-
ism and imagery give many shots a
Hal Ashby-esque feel of visual poetry;
this aesthetic is aurally complemented
by a soundtrack that offers movement
to lengthier, borderline-music-video-
scenes and features artists including
Coldplay, the Shins and the New Jer-
sey band Frou Frou.
Aside from an arguably cliched
ending, the best thing about "Garden
State" is that it does not fit together
perfectly and seamlessly like many
films of its ilk ("Punch-Drunk Love,"
"Say Anything"). It's not surprising
that this indie film, which is romantic
and funny and addresses, instead of
skirting around, issues of importance,
was nominatedforthe grandjuryprize
at the 2004 Sundance Festival. People
may not be quite ready to hail this
New Jersey native as the next Woody
Allen, but they can at least admit that
Zach Braff has unleashed not only a
respectable movie but also a massive
amount of film-making potential.

deal with his secreted and confused
feelings. With his central, thawing
character, Braff has erected a crude,
metallic and nonetheless beautiful
halo around the notoriously average
New Jersey.
Though Braff's plot may not
boast originality at first glance - a
love story with drugs and personal
struggles - Braff expertly twines
novel ideas and characters - most
of which are actual anecdotes from
Braff's own life - that give the film
color and staying power. Braff mixes
heavy subject matter such as urban
sprawl and father-son relationships

(Large and his father's relationship is
strained, at best) with a healthy dose
of idiosyncratic humor, from silent
Velcro to masturbating dogs, thus
creating a balance that is remarkably
mature and warm for a debut film.
Braff's acting anchors the film's
non-cheesiness, or at least its attempt
to stray from cheese. Possessing
remarkable candor, Braff is believ-
able, funny and blessed with near-
perfect timing.
Natalie Portman's over-animated
acting seemed, at least at first, too
stiff a contrast to Braff's stylistic
ease. Her character is hard to believe,

but by the end of the film, Andrew and
Sam's relationship is so sweet that her
taxing performance in the beginning
is excused (stellar shots of Portman in
the rain help, too).
The ensemble cast jives with a live-
ly, playful dynamic as Braff has writ-
ten the characters flawed, vivacious
and interestingly believable. Peter
Saarsgard ("Shattered Glass") plays
Large's childhood buddy Mark, who,
besides being a perpetual small-time
criminal, turns out to be a loyal friend
who teaches Braff to value a journey
as much as its destination. Cameos,
including those by Method Man and




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