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 ****