> Volume 6 > Number 29


Zach Braff

Zach Braff
Natalie Portman
Peter Sarsgaard
Michael Weston
Ian Holm

Release: 30 Jul. 04

Garden State


After his mother dies, Andrew Largeman (Braff), a television actor best known for playing a retarded football player, leaves his Los Angeles home for New Jersey to attend the funeral. This is his first time at home in 9 years, since his psychiatrist father (Holm) pumped Andrew with mood stabilizing drugs and sent him off to a special school. Now back at the place he once considered home (“You feel homesick for a place that doesn’t exist,” one character says of Andrew’s unwelcoming residence), he doesn’t want to hear what his father’s saying. Instead, he just wastes his time with people he knew in high school, hoping to become his new drugs. For the first time in memory, he’s taking a “vacation” from his medication.

Braff, who also wrote and directed, is a charming actor. His ability to remain straight when the rest of the world seems near bankruptcy has been integral to the success of Scrubs, the only show on NBC’s Must See TV lineup that could actually be described as must-see. That charm comes effortlessly to Garden State, the type of independent film that reminds most of us why we cherish these films in the first place. Though it may tread towards clichés at the end, it is more emotionally direct than the majority of films -- foreign, domestic, and independent -- out these days.

Part of the reason is that Braff taps onto the same structure as Wes Anderson, especially in the similarly themed The Royal Tenenbaums. Using a song score that almost seems to have been the catalyst for many scenes (there are well used set pieces accompanied by Coldplay, Frau Frau, The Shins, Simon & Garfunkle, and Nick Drake). Sure, this is less an NPR, more a Clear Channel variant on Anderson’s style, but the middle-brow good humor if infective, and the whole film has charisma to spare

©2004, David Perry,, 16 July 2004