Movie Review
Garden State
Garden State poster
By Greg Ward     Published September 17, 2004
US Release: July 28, 2004

Directed by: Zach Braff
Starring: Natalie Portman , Peter Sarsgaard , Zach Braff

Running Time: 109 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $26,781,723
Zach Braff creates the most realistic and thought-provoking characters I have seen in recent years.
It isn?t very often that a film comes along where every major character is interesting and likable. It takes a lot from the screenwriter to present complex characters that have different types of feelings and emotions that the audience can relate to. With ?Garden State,? Zach Braff creates the most realistic and thought-provoking characters I have seen on the screen in recent years.

Andrew Largeman (Braff) is an actor from California who returns to his home of the Garden State for his mother?s funeral. While he is home, he has a chance to meet with former acquaintances, including Mark (Peter Saarsgard), who is now a gravedigger. He also meets Sam (Natalie Portman), a very colorful girl who changes how Andrew views everyday situations in life. Throughout the film, they have many different adventures together that only strengthens their friendship even more. Between meeting new people and old acquaintances, and a divided relationship between his strict father that continues to grow, Andrew opens up more and becomes a stronger and more emotional person.

Each conversation is realistic and heartfelt. There is one scene where Sam is burying her pet hamster and Andrew joins her; he tells her about his mother dying, and she begins to cry. She doesn?t really know why she starts crying in the first place, but it is moments like these where we see real emotion. Another scene involves a short conversation between Andrew and his father where Andrew mentions how nice the place looks, and the father says that he had some work done to the place. Andrew questions it, and his father says ?no, not really? and doesn?t know why he even said that. At this point, the audience can sense the tension between Andrew and his father; we know their relationship has never been that strong.

The performances are very focused, with each actor/actress making us forget who they are outside of the characters they are portraying. Natalie Portman gives her most convincing and in-depth performance yet; when she cries, you you want to cry with her. Supporting performances by Peter Sarsgaard and Ian Holm as Andrew?s father are also very effective. I can't imagine anyone else bringing nearly as much depth to the characters as these actors do.

The real treasure, however, is Zach Braff. Having also written and directed the film, he truly is a genius. He creates a world of complicated characters that possess traits we can connect with. We can feel what his character is feeling; when he talks about his mother?s death, we can sense that it isn?t the worst thing to have happened to him, but there is still some remorse deep down.

?Garden State? is a real treat for film buffs. It?s the perfect character study, showing real characters with complex lives. The performances are some of the best I have ever seen, and the writing is sharp, with one-liners that are unforgettable; it has been a while since I have seen such an intelligent movie that made me think about my life so much. This is the best movie I have seen so far this year - let?s hope it doesn?t get ignored at the Academy Awards.
Greg's Grade: A
Greg's Overall Grading: 25 graded movies
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'Garden State' Articles
  • Craig's review A
    August 15, 2004    Leaves you wondering just what this talented young triple threat will do next. -- Craig Younkin
  • Lee's review B
    August 13, 2004    This feature has an emotional agenda, but it?s also a uniquely funny take on how bizarre life can be. -- Lee Tistaert