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Garden State (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Feature commentary by Zach Braff and Natalie Portman. Feature Commentary by Zach Braff, Lawrence Sher, Myron Kerstein and Judy Becker. Deleted scenes with optional commentary. Making of featurette. Outtakes/bloopers. Soundtrack promotion.

ZACH Braff will probably be better known to UK television viewers as one of the stars of medical comedy, Scrubs, but in Garden State he branches out to emerge as a writer, director and actor of genuine worth.

The film is a surreal, yet poignant and frequently funny journey of self-discovery that will probably be embraced by the confused twenty-something generation it is aimed at – but it has a lot of crossover appeal as well.

Braff stars as waiter and actor, Andrew Largeman (or ‘Large’ to his friends), who returns to his New Jersey home from LA, to attend his mother’s funeral.

The visit, however, forces him to try and provide some meaning to his life, especially since he has been drifting through it in a lithium-induced coma since a childhood act of aggression confined his mother to a wheelchair.

Hence, Largeman seeks to be reconciled with his father (Ian Holm), who also happens to be the psychiatrist responsible for putting him on the lithium, while also hooking up with some old friends, most notably Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), who is now working as a grave-digger at the local ceremony.

What he doesn’t count on, however, is finding the love of his life in the form of Natalie Portman’s kooky Sam, a fellow misfit whose warmth and fearlessness give Largeman the courage to open his heart to the joy and pain of life.

The ensuing film is a sincere and heartfelt affair that strikes a particularly strong emotional chord, while also providing some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments to boot.

We’ve been here before, of course, but Braff brings a great deal of ingenuity to the premise, particularly in his brand of offbeat humour.

A scene, early on, in which he emerges from his car, at work, to find the nozzle from the petrol pump still attached to his vehicle, is a stroke of comedy genius, and typical of the subtlety of the visual gags (another scene, in which he is given a shirt made from the remains of a relative’s wallpaper, is similarly inspired).

Yet for all of the oddball humour, the film also proves to have great heart, not least in the way in which Braff develops the relationship between Largeman and Sam.

Portman is a delight and imbues her character with just the right amount of kooky charm, building a credible, funny and surprisingly emotional relationship with Largeman, thereby providing the audience with someone to truly root for.

But the rest of the cast is pitch-perfect too, whether it’s Holm’s quietly under-stated turn as Largeman’s estranged father (who is equally desperate to understand his son), or the brilliant Sarsgaard, as a loyal best friend.

Braff’s use of music is also first-rate, with bands such as The Shins, Frou Frou and Coldplay featuring prominently on the soundtrack and invigorating key scenes, without ever threatening to undermine them.

Garden State won’t be to everyone’s taste, given its quirky style, but it certainly highlights Braff as an exciting new talent to watch, while providing audience with a genuinely uplifting and feel-good experience to boot. It is an emotionally enriching affair for anyone willing to go with it.

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