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August 31, 2004 > Garden State

Garden State

Rated R for language, drug use and brief sexuality

by Susana Nuñez

Since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2004, Garden State has gained a surprisingly large following. Making his directorial and screenwriting debut, 29-year-old Zach Braff, of television's Scrubs, sets out achieve his goal of capturing the essence of young love in New Jersey, nicknamed the "Garden State". Starring opposite Golden Globe-nominated Natalie Portman, Braff reveals his talents as actor, director, and writer in this quirky, thoughtful film.

Andrew Largeman (Braff) shuffled through life in a lithium-induced coma until his mother's death inspired him to take a vacation from the sedative pills he relied on. A moderately successful T.V. actor living in Los Angeles, Largeman hasn't visited his hometown in New Jersey for nine years. 3,000 miles have separated him from his family and, still, he is unable to escape the control of his domineering father, Gideon (Academy Award nominee Sir Ian Holm). Home again, Large, as his friends endearingly call him, meets up with old acquaintances living the lives of gravedigges and fast food knights, all the while avoiding an inevitable confrontation with his father.

Large finally meets his match in Sam (Natalie Portman). Sam is the complete opposite of Large; a blast of color to his black and white reality. The quirky Sam lives an unconventional life full of a spontaneity Large never knew existed. He is immediately drawn to her complexity, humor, and ability to deal with life's disillusions. Sam becomes Large's sidekick and helps the lost soul open his heart to the pain, and joy, that life has to offer.

Although Garden State is a comedy, Braff's co-star, Natalie Portman, observes that, "It also has a heart. It's untraditional and unlike anything I'd ever seen before." For Portman, who was coming off of her role as Senator Amidala in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Garden State offered a breath of fresh air, especially in regard to her character's depth. "Sam is a funny girl," Portman says, but more importantly, "she's a whole character. Most female parts written by a guy...turn out to be his weird ideal of what a girl ought to be: she's hot, she takes off her clothes a lot, and she also really likes sports. But, as written by Zach, Sam is a real person."

In his belief that most filmmakers rely on the same clichˇd formulas, it was vital for Braff to make a smart, complex love story for young people. Abandoning the traditional three-act Hollywood movie structure taught in film school, Braff creates a movie in which events unfold "as they would if you're this guy who comes home all of a sudden. You run into people you once knew, you hang out with them. Then maybe you never see them again. In the case of my character, he also buries his mother and falls in love. A lot happens in this one weekend."

Garden State, also featuring Pete Sarsgaard, Jean Smart, Ron Liebman and Method Man, is a film for those who are tired of watching bland, formulaic love stories. This beautifully filmed movie, along with its endearing characters, is sure to leave audiences walking out of the theatre with a smile.

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