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DVD Review: Garden State

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Oh lord, where to start with this mess? A hit with the indie circuit, writer/director Zach Braff’s Garden State is pretentious, obnoxious and non-sensical. Message to indie filmmakers: putting your characters into odd situations and having them spout inane dialogue does not make for a good movie. And no, we’re not stupid; we understand what your visual metaphors mean. You frame a character wearing a shirt that matches the background of the wallpaper he standing in front of, and it’s obvious: he wants to melt into the background, he doesn’t want to be noticed, or he feels like he has no identity. I understand.

The plot, such as it is: Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) is a sometime actor/waitor living in Los Angeles. He’s semi-famous for playing a “retarded quarterback” in a made for TV movie. And yes, characters in the film ask him if he’s really retarded. Several times. Ha! Funny.

Andrew gets a call from his estranged father, Gideon: Andrew’s mother has died. Here’s a nice “I’m writing an indie script” death: she’s drowned in the bath tub. Oh wait, there’s more. You see, when Andrew was a wee lad, there was some sort of accident involving him and a faulty dishwasher door, which caused mom to trip and fall, paralyzing her from the waist down. Isn’t that wacky? Andrew was traumatized, so his psychiatrist father put him on various medications. And as we see in the beginning of the film, Andrew takes a lot: he opens a medicine cabinet filled with bottles of pills.

So, Andrew must return home, his first time home in nearly a decade, and we know well in advance that Andrew will have to face his father and meet a girl. And fall in love! And the critics will say, “Man, this film reminds me of The Graduate!” Sure…

Once home, Andrew hooks up with his wacky friends, including Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), who holds a bunch of different odd jobs, including grave digging.

Oh, speaking of death, how’s this from the wacky handbook: at the funeral for Andrew’s mother, someone will be singing a song, badly. Wacky! Why is that person singing? Dunno! But it’s wacky. And it’s “three times a lady.” Wacky!

Andrew meets a wacky young woman named Sam (Natalie Portman) as the two wait to see a doctor. The two meet at the moment a seeing eye dog (get ready for it) starts humping Andrew’s leg. Wacky! Sam has epilepsy and has to wear a goofy helmet and of course she’s your standard-issue indie flick “free spirit” who spouts meaningless B.S. and who thinks that jumping around and making funny noises is somehow creative. Whatever.

In between lots of random stuff happens, scenes meant to be funny, I guess (look! a guy in a suit of armor! funny! oh, look! Andrew drove off from a gas station with the nozzle still attached to his car! funny!). Will Andrew pull himself out of his drug-induced state of apathy and allow himself to experience the full range of life’s emotions? Sure! Will he and Sam fall in love? Of course!

Lest anyone think I “didn’t get it” I can say: yes, I got it. Thank you. Yes, I caught all the visual metaphors, from Andrew’s fear of water to the scenes at the doctor’s office where he has words written on his torso. See, he feels naked, exposed to the world.

If you like hamster funerals and characters that say the “f” word a lot, this film is for you.

* out of ****
ed: JH

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  • Rich Powers

    Thanks so much for this review. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s pretentious B.S. indie films. Most people who like this garbage only do so because they believe it gives them “artistic cred” with the beret-wearing, cigarette smoking, faux-Greenwich crowd or something.

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    Hmm, I genuinely liked this film. Let me see if I can dig up my review of it.

  • http://onejenifer.blogspot.com Jenifer

    I completely disagree with your review. I thought it was one of the best films of last year. I’m curious how old you are? It’s possible you didn’t connect with it because you just don’t relate to it. It’s definitely a film for a specific generation. I tried to show it to my mom, and she didn’t really get it, either. It’s too bad it didn’t affect you in the same way it affected most everyone in my peer group.

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    Hmm, I didn’t write as much as I recalled. I really liked watching the character’s gradual evolution.

  • http://www.scottcsmith.net Scott C. Smith

    Jenifer,

    I’m 37, I’m not old. (Bonus points for who can tell me what I’m referring to…) The issue isn’t about connecting. The issue was I didn’t care about any of the characters, so I had nothing to connect with. Believe me, in my life I’ve gone through times where I was adrift in a sea of apathy, emotionally frigid and lost. The movie just didn’t ring true to me.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    My thoughts are on par with this review. When I saw the movie, I wasn’t really sure what to think about it when the movie was over; all my friends who went with me loved it, and I had intentions of loving it as well. But the more I thought about it, the more I was turned off by it.

    And the love story? Completely tacked on at the end. I would have had a much better taste in my mouth had this movie been devoid of a love story. Because then you can at least imagine if they get together (see: Napoleon Dynamite)

    But Braff was on a popularity high from Scrubs (great show) and Portman had the whole Star Wars mojo going for her.

    ** Here’s a nice “I’m writing an indie script” death: she’s drowned in the bath tub.

    That’s a good line.

  • http://www.temptationwaits.com visualsimplicity

    I’ll have to side with Jenifer and say that this film is a bit more a Gen Y film than a Gen X film. I found it sincere and I connected with the characters (the quirky interaction between the two leads in particular–it reminds me of the whole “new love” interaction between young couples). Didn’t find a single thing pretentious about it.

  • Rob

    I didn’t mind this film at all. It wasn’t the greatest, but I still enjoyed it. My wife thought it was great and she encouraged me to watch it.

  • Tim

    Spot on review. And I’m of the generation that’s supposed to like this film (I’m a year younger than Portman.

    It’s not that I can’t enjoy a good “indie” type movie, for instance Wes Anderson has done some good stuff. It’s that this film was garbage.