Zach Braff……….Andrew Largeman
Ian Holm……….Gideon Largeman
Ron Leibman……….Dr. Cohen
Fox Searchlight presents the film Garden State. Running time: 109 minutes. Rated R (for language, drug use and a scene of sexuality).
At the start of this motion picture the protagonist, Andrew Largeman, is in a semi-catatonic state. Reminiscent of Ferris Bueller’s best friend Cameron, Andrew is laying in his cocoon of a bed staring at the ceiling. Unresponsive, the answering machine in his room picks up and records a message from his father. His father informs Andrew that his mother has drowned in the bathtub. Andrew makes an effort to get up and stares at himself in his bathroom mirror. When he opens the medicine cabinet, rows and rows of medication are revealed. Talk about totally overmedicated.
So begins Garden State, a film written and directed by Zach Braff, who stars as Andrew. Most famous for his character J.D. on the TV show Scrubs, Braff creates an idiosyncratic coming-of-age comedy that was one of the sleeper hits of 2004.
When Andrew makes his way to his mother’s funeral in New Jersey – a place he hasn’t visited in nine years – he does so with no medicine. The reason for the long time away from home is the aloofness between Andrew and his father Gideon (Ian Holm). All of his life, Andrew has had to live with the fact that he caused his mother to be a paraplegic. His father keeps reiterating that Andrew will never be well until he can forgive what he did to his mother. But Andrew was only nine, and he blames his father for never fixing the faulty latch on the dishwasher.
As the movie progresses, Andrew meets up with high school bud Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) and the two indulge in ecstasy and heavy partying. But the pacing is rough. The film doesn’t really start to click until Andrew meets Sam (Natalie Portman), a free spirit; and one of those girls who is both down-to-earth and desirable. Natalie Portman is perfect in this role. The way she graces the screen, it’s almost as if she was just being herself, not acting at all.
Braff and Portman have a great chemistry together. Much like Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, the lovebirds of Garden State are such a joy to watch. When you see the two side-by-side you are convinced that they are meant to be together. Andrew’s sedated state of mind and Sam’s positive attitude are a great pairing.
Besides Portman’s performance, the music is also an important aspect of Garden State. Musicians like Simon and Garfunkel, The Shins, and Frou Frou help you connect with Andrew as he examines his life. Zach Braff even states on the album cover that “You gotta hear these songs, they will change your life I promise you.” He may be right. This is definitely one of the best soundtracks in recent memory.
Some may be wary of a film where the main character is trying to reconnect with his feelings. It does have a Lost in Translation-type of vibe, but this is more in sync with The Station Agent. Both films have characters that after you see the film you wish you had the opportunity to actually interact with them.
For a low budget feature, the video quality is remarkably good. The colors are nicely defined with different earth tones and blue hues. The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Not many sound effects to crank up on your stereo, but the soundtrack allows you to use your five-point-one channels of audio. Listen to Coldplay’s “Don’t Panic” or The Shins’ “Caring is Creepy” and you’ll see. You can listen to the film in English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround or Spanish Dolby Surround. You can also view the film with English, French, or Spanish subtitles.
Thankfully, the guys at 20th Century Fox provided some supplemental material for this astonishing film. The first extra comes in the form of two screen-specific commentaries.
The first commentary track is with Writer/Director/Actor Zach Braff and his co-star Natalie Portman. This commentary was recorded with them together in studio. This was a fun commentary. Unlike some other actor commentaries where the participants involved just “phone it in,” Braff and Portman are content while talking about the film. A great thing about the track is hearing Natalie Portman cringe/laugh every time she does her cute smile on screen.
Zach Braff, the Director of Photography Lawrence Sher, Garden State’s editor Myron Kerstein, and Production Designer Judy Becker make up the second commentary track. For a track that consists of various aspects of production you would think there would be more in-depth commentary. Sadly, I felt this track lacked in that area. But humorous anecdotes do come into play every once in a while.
Next up you can watch sixteen deleted scenes with or without commentary by the participants of the second commentary track. Most of the deleted scenes are scene extensions or different cuts from scenes in the film. The best deleted scene is “First Talk.” This scene has Andrew and his father conversing about the recent passing of Andrew’s mother. All sixteen deleted scenes total about 31 minutes in length.
There is a 27-minute “Making Of” featurette that was recorded on location. A little more informative than your typical EPK “Making Of,” this featurette includes comments from the actors involved, the set designers, and the lighting guys. Even the guys who cater the food weigh in with their two cents.
Rounding out the extras is an Outtakes/Blooper Reel, a promo for the Garden State soundtrack, and a trailer for the Danny Boyle (Trainspotting; 28 Days Later) film Millions. You can find the trailer under the “Searchlight Features” option on the main screen.
THE INSIDE PULSE
For a film that took 24 days to film, Garden State had great word-of-mouth success. It is very deserving of the 24 million it took in at the box office. Zach Braff has created a gem of a movie. Though not for everyone, this is a film that you want to experience over and over. The characters are terrific as is the music. Just an outstanding film. No longer will Zach Braff be known as “that guy on Scrubs.”