Mark Twain once said, “You can never go home.” His indelible words were surely the inspiration for the summer’s indie sleeper hit “Garden State.” Who knew that first-time writer/director Zach Braff, of television’s “Scrubs” could concoct something so full of charm and cynicism? Braff, along with producers Gary Gilbert and Danny DeVito have created something reminiscent of fellow independent hit “Good Will Hunting.” Natalie Portma (“Star Wars: Episode I”) stars opposite Braff as the quirky love interest. In a scene-stealing performance, Portman shows off her wealth of talent, as well as her utter girl-next-door desirability. Braff’s cinematic take on returning home is somewhat skewed and off-the-wall, but in the most enjoyable of ways.
Ever feel like life has an expiration date and is slowly going sour, like that carton of milk in the back of the fridge? That’s how life is for Andrew Largeman (Braff), whose dismal life as a Hollywood actor seems to be growing bleaker one soap-opera role at a time. Largeman is a character who is almost catatonic in his emotions, which would be annoying if Braff didn’t have one of the most interesting faces since Buster Keaton. Family troubles bring Largeman back to Braff’s real-life home state of New Jersey. Though Largeman was a nobody in Los Angeles, at home he is considered a celebrity – just one of the numerous autobiographical references implanted throughout.
This is a movie about finding home and family, or at least a representation of it. Much like Alice in Wonderland, Largeman encounters many characters in his self-discovery. Enter Sam (Portman), a pathological liar who counters Largeman’s own insecurities and shyness with energy and enthusiasm. Sam is well portrayed by Portman, whose Colgate smile and off-the-cuff style brings the character to life. The dialogue between Braff and Portman produces some of the most profound statements in the search for comfort. Largeman quietly states, “Maybe family is just a bunch of people who miss the same imaginary place called home.” As the search for home continues, Largeman begins to come out of his depressed comalike state and finally starts really feeling life the first time.
The sets and locations throughout the film give New Jersey, home to the world’s largest landfill, a dreamlike quality. The mise-en-scene is gorgeous, and every set reflects on each of Largeman’s fellow characters. It should also please music fans that this is one of the better movie soundtracks available. The music fits the mood and action very well. Fans of indie pop’s the Shins will be pleased to hear their tunes playing in the characters’ headphones.
“Garden State” is the movie that proves Twain’s old saying wrong, garnering a warm feeling of returning home. Not the chick flick it appears to be, “Garden State” has heart and is easily relatable to anyone who still hangs out with friends from high school when home. Braff should not be written off as a Matt LeBlanc or David Schwimmer – the guy has genuine talent. He and Portman share some brilliant moments on camera and exhibit a Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan chemistry throughout. If “Garden State” is any indication of what is to come, expect big things from this directorial newcomer. A small but wonderfully appealing movie, “Garden State” is worth your time and money.