Garden State

November 25th, 2004 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Written and Directed By: Zach Braff

Starring: Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Ian Holm.

When they start advertising as movie by referring it compared to other movies, it’s usually a bad sign. You know, ‘Terms of Endearment for the 90’s’, ‘Quentin Tarantino if he did sci-fi’, that sort of thing. It often means a film has no intrinsic value, but they’re trying to get their money back by namedropping, thinking maybe you’ll assume its good by association.

So when ads for the latest indie hopeful Garden State started saying ‘This year’s Lost in Translation‘, it looked like a few test audiences had turned in bad report cards and producers/distributors panicked.

The marketing projects the mood of Garden State being about a lost soul well — just look at the well-known still from the movie of the hero (as well as writer/director Braff) standing against a garish jungle print wallpaper, wearing a shirt made from identical material.

Braff has assembled an impressive cast and Garden State will indeed go down as one of the films that defines a generation.

He plays Andrew, a miserable-looking twentysomething who returns to his desolate suburban east coast hometown from a passable LA acting career to attend his mother’s funeral.

While there, he’ll meet Sam (Portman) a girl who fits the ‘cute and weird indie film girl’ stereotype a bit too well. He’ll come up against his psychiatrist father (Holm), in meetings that result in tension you can cut with a knife — denoting a dark past in the family.

He’ll hook up with childhood friend Mark (Sarsgaard), now a gravedigger (and graverobber, in one of the film’s many unexplained developments and loose ends), and we’re never sure if he’s a true friend or a psycho waiting to happen.

Andrew will spend his few days at home going to a bunch of quirky locations, meeting and hanging around quirky people and having quirky experiences. You get the idea. Quirk virtually guarantees critical praise nowadays and it’s as out of bounds to say an acceptably quirky film sucked as it is to suggest the Jews killed Christ.

And while Garden State is overflowing with quirkiness, there’s little else at the centre once you chew through all the artificial flavouring.

The armies of people defending the film aren’t wrong — it’s spoken directly to plenty of people. It’s just that there are as many people who’ll find it like an episode of 90210, only grimier and without the money.

Too much screentime is given to seemingly pointless sequences, too little given to the apparent meat of the story. Too few occurrences are explained or resolved, the resolutions to others are terribly fake. The characters talk like they just emerged from junior high school, the dialogue peppered with so many uses of the work ‘like’ you keep expecting them to whip out their mobiles and start SMSing ringtones to each other.

It’s some sort of coming of age story, but there’s too much groovy window dressing, not enough attention paid to plotting and pacing, and it’s nothing you (and your parents in their day) haven’t seen before. Good movies are usually the result of original stories, and this kind of coming of age tale has been told everywhere from Romeo and Juliet to Blue Fin.

After all the orgasmic praise bestowed on it by the hipper film critics of the world, Braff is just another DIF filmmaker throwing bizarre imagery and a trendy soundtrack together, knowing he’ll have arthouse fans the world over worshipping him until the next Generation Y auteur comes along. In ten years he’ll either be another supporting actor or director in studio projects or completely forgotten.


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