GARDEN STATE is a warm, good-spirited and captivating original. It's hard to
describe it exactly. I guess it's a romantic comedy between Andrew Largeman
(Zach Braff, who is also the film's talented writer and director), a
twentysomething guy who has spent his whole life overmedicated, and Sam
(Natalie Portman), a scatterbrained and flighty free-spirit, whom Andrew meets
in a doctor's waiting room. Portman is terrific and inviting playing a role
that is light-years from her stiff part as Queen Amidala. Largeman and Portman
display a natural chemistry together that is more best friends at first sight
than it is love at first sight.
The frequently funny GARDEN STATE bursts with a host of quirky characters who
amazingly all work in the context of the story. As perhaps the most normal
one, Sam has a coal-black brother, a house with a Christmas tree in the fall
and a large fish-and-hamster graveyard.
After a nine year absence, Andrew is in town for the burial of his mother, who
drowned in the bathtub. At her funeral he runs into Mark (Peter Sarsgaard,
SHATTERED GLASS), who is a gravedigger, a small-time scamster and a collector
of Desert Storm trading cards -- there's a fortune in them if you have a
complete set, which he doesn't, and hold them long enough, or so he believes.
Andrew almost gets a ticket from an old friend of his who is a cop. But, upon
recognizing Andrew, he tells him about the great perks of his job as a
policeman, including, he says with great glee, "If I get shot, man, I'm rich!"
One of his old buddies named Jesse (Armando Riesco) is wealthy but bored stiff.
After getting instant riches from his patent on "silent Velcro," Jesse doesn't
have anything to do with his life anymore, so he spends time riding around on
an ATV inside his furnitureless mansion.
Andrew, who currently takes a lot of abuse in his position as the only
non-Vietnamese waiter at a Vietnamese restaurant in L.A., is famous for his one
part in a TV series in which he played a retarded quarterback. "If they gave
like a retarded Oscar, you would win hands down," Sam assures him. As Andrew
comes off of all of the meds his father has prescribed for him over the years,
he finds that he loves being in the world again rather than observing it as if
from afar. Ian Holm, in the story's only underwritten part, plays Andrew's
The film is almost as insightful as it is funny. "That's all a family really
is," Andrew tells Sam, "a group of people who miss the same imaginary place."
He doesn't want to go back to the good old times because he is the only one to
admit that they never existed in the first place.
As the story, which features an ark near an abyss and a woman who is required
to wear a crash helmet to work in her law office, draws to an end, you'll
probably be wishing for a GARDEN STATE II. The story comes to a complete and
logical conclusion so that there is no need for or hint of a sequel, but the
people you've met are so endearing that you really don't want to let them go
out of your life. You want to hang around with them some more.
GARDEN STATE runs 1:49. It is rated R for "language, drug use and a scene of
sexuality" and would be acceptable for most teenagers.
Copyright © 2004 Steve Rhodes