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GARDEN STATE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Zach Braff, Ian Holm, Method Man, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard
Director: Zach Braff
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 103 Minutes
Release Date: December 28, 2004

"We may not always be as happy as you always dreamed we'd be, but for once, let's just allow ourselves to be whatever it is we are."

Film ****

Every year seems to have its breakout independent film success, and in 2004, that film was writer/director Zach Braff's Garden State. Rarely has a single film been so observant of its characters, and at the same time had a story that was both honest and incredibly funny. Braff's film, for all its original qualities, is a pure gem.

At its core, the film tells a seriously themed story, but there are so many different elements Braff has placed in the screenplay, which is why the movie is indeed an original one. With its tale of twenty-something angst, and its hugely focused sense of setting, in addition to music use, Garden State could become The Graduate of its time.

Braff stars as Andrew Largeman, a disillusioned soul who has spent the better part of his life heavily medicated and feeling numb. Living in L.A. and trying to make it as an actor, Andrew is forced to confront his past when he receives news that his mother has died. His journey back to New Jersey, where he's been away from for nine years, will serve as a revelation, as Andrew rids himself of his medicated state before returning home.

Returning to his Jersey roots takes some time for Andrew. His distant father (Ian Holm) is even surprised to see that he bothered to return home, since they haven't spoken in almost a decade. Why did Andrew even leave home in the first place and why has he distance himself as far away from home as possible? Those are the issues he plans to face while he's in town.

After attending the funeral, Andrew hooks up with an old high school friend named Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), who now works as a gravedigger. Mark, who specializes in part time drug and criminal activity, is a likeable soul who happens to relish the notion that he's accomplished nothing in life. He exposes Andrew to some drug partying, despite the fact that he is coming off medication.

But Andrew's life is changed instantly when he meets Sam (Natalie Portman). He meets her at a clinic where he comes to discover that she is a pathological liar. Once Andrew takes notice of this, the two begin a purely honest bond. That bond leads to unexpected romance.

By the end of the film, Andrew, has come to realize that there was a true purpose to his revisiting home. He has found true romance, something he never knew he could experience. In addition, he has found the ability to overcome a longtime medicated state and awaken to discover that life is indeed worth living. Lastly, he has found the strength to confront his father about an issue that has kept them apart for such a long period of time.

What Zach Braff has done here is nothing short of remarkable. Garden State can easily go on record as one of the best character studies involving young twenty-somethings ever to be made. Braff, who is known to the television community as the star of the hit sitcom, Scrubs, announces himself as a true triple threat as a writer, director, and actor. The cast is universally excellent, as Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard and Ian Holm all turn in fantastic supporting work. Braff and Portman's chemistry is stunning, resulting in easily the best romance to be seen in any film in 2004.

Garden State is high on my list of the best films of last year. It's definitely one you can't afford to miss.

Video ****

Fox's anamorphic presentation is grand in every aspect. Zach Braff incorporates a vast number of striking visual shots which resonate tremendously well in this transfer. Image quality is that of persistent and complete clarity, with outstandingly natural colors to boot. An incredible and terrific looking disc.

Audio ***

This film is solely driven by the dialogue provided, but that's not to say that the film doesn't carry with it certain bonuses. Music is heard in almost every single scene. The soundtrack includes tracks by Coldplay, Simon & Garfunkel, The Shins and more. Each song is wonderfully heard through the 5.1 mix, and the dialogue is delivered as clear and strong as can be.

Features ***1/2

Fox delivers a nicely loaded package with this release. Featured are two commentary tracks; the first with Zach Braff and Natalie Portman; the second with Zach Braff, director of photography Lawrence Sher, editor Myron Kerstein, and production designer Judy Becker. Also included are 16 deleted scenes with optional commentary from Zach Braff, a making-of featurette, a gag reel, and a soundtrack spot.

Summary:

As a filmgoer, you strive to experience something surprising and original, and Garden State is such an example. Zach Braff has made a most striking debut as a writer/director, and the cast is nothing short of phenomenal in one of they year's funniest and most touching films.

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