Plot Summary: A quietly troubled young man returns home for his mother’s funeral after being estranged from his family for a decade.
Director & Writer: Zach Braff
Stars: Braff, Peter Sarsgaard, Natalie Portman
Serious Jest: (Must Watch) This film is about Braff’s character, Large, but it is a reflection of Portman’s character, Sam. Sam is beautiful, unique, witty, funny, and fun. She is also quirky, talks a mile a minute, and wears her flaws like a fur coat…Large can’t figure out whether she is openly insecure or incredibly self-confident. But he is overwhelmed by how…alive she is. She excites him…and she excites the viewer. Portman really brought the Girlfriend Experience in this flick, and it really strikes a chord with me, because Sam’s aforementioned characteristics are what attracted me so strongly to my current girlfriend.
As I said, though, this movie is about Large. He is perpetually numb, floating through life without a defined purpose, and he doesn’t even understand what happiness is. He is in a profession and in a city that reward superficiality, self-centeredness over community, and wearing a metaphorical war mask to cover one’s vulnerable emotions. His sudden trip home reminds him that you don’t have to make a ton of money or be in an exotic place to find happiness…the happiest moments come unexpectedly when you’re in great company. Happiness lies in self acceptance and appreciating the present…making the most of who and where you are, and who you are with, right now. I believe that most of us have learned or re-learned this lesson the hard way, or have yet to learn the lesson…that’s why I believe that most of you will relate to this film, even if you don’t necessarily relate to Large.
As I also said earlier, this movie is a reflection of Sam. Like her, it is unique, witty, funny, and fun…you often wish you could step through the TV screen and hang out with some of these strange-but-interesting people, even if you don’t do drugs (and I don’t). It is also quirky, dark, and deep. Living in the moment is a constant theme of this film, as it puts a microscope on 4 days that potentially changed a young man’s life. Taking control of your life is another theme, as it cautions the viewer about how something as seemingly-trivial as a quarter-inch piece of plastic can determine the majority of your life, if you let it.
While the movie is titled “Garden State,” and it is filmed in New Jersey, it doesn’t feature landmarks or many aspects that are uniquely Jersey (according to IMDB, the site of the swimming pool scene was chosen for its view of the Manhattan skyline, but fog on the day of filming obscured the view). Having grown up in Jersey, I would have liked to have seen the Garden State Parkway or Turnpike featured at least once, but I guess the flick as is makes it more relatable to people from other states. This movie is not necessarily about coming home to Jersey, it’s about coming home.
Honestly, though, I’ve always said this to people: what makes New Jersey a great place to live is not landmarks, a grand list of things to do, or a good tax situation; instead, it is the people. For the most part, the people are genuine. They speak their mind, and although they may have a rough exterior, loyalty is a common trait; they can rag on their friends mercilessly, but don’t you dare rag on their friends or you might find yourself in a fistfight. I felt that this flick did a good job of representing that.
And the movie’s director seemed to really understand that, as, also according to IMDB, the film was based partly on Braff’s own childhood in New Jersey (he attended Columbia High School in Maplewood), as well as his days as a struggling actor in Los Angeles before the success of Scrubs. He also hand-picked the songs for the soundtrack. In effect, Braff kind of bared his soul to the world through this flick, and I think that if you like him or Portman, you should set aside time to watch it at some point. My respect for Braff has definitely increased after seeing it (and I already liked him as a comedic actor before).