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08.18.2005

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flick pick | Garden State 2004
Directed + written by: Zach Braff
Starring: Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Ian Holm
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something:  lovey, quintessentially quasi-adult, whimsical
The critic says: ˝/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis Andrew "Large" Largeman is a struggling, twentysomething actor/waiter living in LA. He's had some luck with the acting -- a starring role as a mentally retarded high school quarterback has given him a modicum of hey-haven't-I-seen-you-on-TV recognition -- though not enough that he can quit his crappy day job. Mostly, he's alone and depressed, consuming so many medications in an attempt to just get happy that he can barely feel anything at all. So when his father leaves a message on his answering machine, telling him that his mom's died, Large doesn't cry. But he does bring himself to catch a plane back for the funeral. It's his first time back home in New Jersey since he left nine years ago. In many ways, it's as if no time has passed at all. His psychiatrist dad still doesn't know how to talk to Large without registering his profound disappointment in his son with every sigh and look. His old friends are all still hanging about town, doing very little with their lives beyond drugs, parties, go-nowhere jobs and the occasional bit of petty crime. Large finds himself hanging out with the old crowd, mostly because he can't stand to be in the house with his dad. But then he meets a girl named Sam. Sam's decidedly weird; she talks too much; she just might be a pathological liar. As it turns out, she's also the best thing to happen to Large in a long, long time.

Review It's hard when you go into a movie expecting to love it. Garden State took so long to get off my DVD rental list queue and arrive in my mailbox that by the time I finally saw it, I'd heard so many raves about it from friends that, frankly, expectations were ridiculously high. Garden State, after all, is a first film by a young writer/director, and at times, you can really kinda sorta tell. The film's need to have every single tiny moment and detail represent something big and grand about the meaning of life can seem annoyingly precious almost as often as it seems profound; the movie also sometimes tries just a smidge too hard to prove its hipness. (Case in point: a scene in which Sam makes Large listen to The Shins' "New Slang" because the song will "change his life," would have been perfect, if only the script hadn't ruined it by awkwardly name-dropping The Shins as proof of Sam's -- and the film's -- indie cool cred). Still, there are worse things you could get from a film than trying too hard, and there's a lot that Garden State gets just right. For one thing, the cast is fantastic, from Braff himself as the lost protagonist, to Natalie Portman as hyperkinetic free spirit Sam (in a performance that reminded me that Star Wars craptasticness aside, she really is the same actress who was so preternaturally beguiling in The Professional and Beautiful Girls), to Ian Holm as Large's dad, to Peter Sarsgaard as an old friend who makes this beautiful tiny gesture of redemption just when you're convinced he's finally proved himself to be the biggest loser in the world. Moreover, Garden State does a beautiful job of capturing what it's like to be a lost twentysomething, floating about in the big scary world, trying to find a place where you feel safe. Yeah, Garden State might not be without flaws, but it does have a sincerity and a dreamy-quirky charm that mark its voice as distinct. And in the end, maybe that's far more interesting than perfection. —reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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