Grieving Hollywood Actor Meets Jersey Girl in Romantic Comedy
Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) is an actor who has found a measure of
success, if not happiness, playing a retarded character on a network TV
series. After nine years in Hollywood, this means that while he may have a
famous face, he still has to supplement his modest income by waiting tables.
Worse, he finds himself addicted to a daily cocktail of lithium and other
pills he takes to deal with a lingering depression.
Now, the unexpected death of his mother has brought Andrew back home to
suburban New Jersey for her funeral. The visit represents his first return
to his childhood roots after a long absence. Unfortunately, his status as a
celebrity immediately interferes with his need to find the space to grieve
and to exorcise some very personal demons.
For the competing demands of long-lost friends and relatives, and even of
strangers who only recognize him from television conspire to prevent Andrew
from mourning in any meaningful manner. Why, just after the service at the
cemetery, he is invited to a party by an old pal who happens to be one of
his mother’s gravediggers (Peter Sarsgaard).
Andrew abandons all his medicines, cold turkey, and starts tooling around
town on a classic motorcycle with a sidecar. And at every turn, it seems, he
finds himself accosted by off-the-wall individuals.
There’s the annoying aunt (Jackie Hoffman) who has sewn him a shirt out of
excess material from his mom’s drapes, and the hardware store employee
intent on interesting him in a pyramid scheme. Or the buddy who works as a
knight at a theme restaurant called Medieval Times, and the slightly
sadistic kid (Armando Riesco) who’s already made millions with the invention
of silent Velcro.
Garden State marks the brilliant directorial and script-writing debut of 29
year-old Zach Braff, an actor previously best known for his portrayal of Dr.
John Dorian on the NBC-TV series Scrubs. Here, the South Orange native has
crafted a memorable movie out of a motley mix of his own remembrances, local
Jersey lore and other ideas purely a product of his vivid imagination.
The film was shot in on location in South Orange, Cranford, Wallington,
Tenafly and Newark. Braff has such a keen eye for the offbeat, that every
setting and every encounter is freaky, quirky or somehow over the top. While
these flights of fancy certainly make for an endlessly entertaining
experience, they also discourage an audience from taking it all that
Despite the incessant distraction of weirdoes, adoring fans, perverted pets
and bizarre backdrops, our perturbed protagonist presses on. Yes, he’s
technically home, but he’s obviously avoiding a showdown with his
shrink/estranged father (Ian Holm), the psychiatrist he still blames for
getting him hooked on prescription drugs in the first place.
Disconnected Andrew finally finds a calming soul in Sam (Natalie Portman),
the cute, compulsive, epileptic liar who befriends him in a hospital waiting
room. Sam takes him home to meet her neurotic mom (Jane Houdyshell) and her
African brother (Ato Essandoh).
As they negotiate their way around the neighborhood during Andrew’s brief
stay, the couple keeps all the world’s strangeness at bay with secret
signals and by leaning on each other as they become increasingly emotionally
intimate. Will he head back to Tinseltown or commit to try a new life with
his new love?
For all its serious psychiatric pretense, Garden State is an introspective,
semi-autobiographical exercise which by the end is revealed to be, at heart,
a tender-hearted romantic comedy. And one that really works.
Excellent (4 stars)
R for profanity, alcohol and drug abuse, and one scene containing nudity and graphic sexuality.