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A Film that Defines a Generation
NCSAFilmGuy10 August 2004
Zach Braff's "Garden State" manages to accomplish something that very few films have been able to do throughout the history of cinema. It is a film that speaks to an entire generation. 1947's "The Best Years of Our Lives" spoke to our grandparents. "The Graduate" spoke to our parents. "Fight Club" spoke to our older brothers working dead-end jobs in the 90's. But it is with the arrival of "Garden State" that our generation is spoken to, those of us born in the early-mid 80's who are in our late teens and early twenties trying to make it by in a environment that seems all at once to strange and yet so familiar.

Homecoming is the theme of Garden State. Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff)) has been away from his hometown of New Jersey for the past nine years and returns to attend the funeral for his mother. While having been gone, Andrew has been on lithium and other forms of anti-depressant medication all prescribed to him by his psychiatrist father Gideon (Ian Holm). Upon his homecoming Andrew has decided to take a vacation from his medication and take some time to re-connect with himself. From there the plot grows as he connects with old friends and makes new ones and discovers the joys of life and love mostly thanks to the arrival of free-spirited Sam (Natalie Portman).

Braff has written and directed scenes that qualify to go down in the movie history books along such moments as Pulp Fiction's dance sequence, and The Deer Hunter's Russian roulette scenes. Two of said scenes that come to mind are when Sam takes Andrew up to her room for the first time and does something "totally original that has never been done before in this location and will never be copied again throughout the rest of human existence," in order to ease the pain of an awkward situation. Another scene occurs late in the film when the three principals stand at the edge of a seemingly endless abyss and scream at the tops of their lungs into the gorge. It is this moment that defines, with one pure act, the epitome of what it feels to be in your late teens, early 20's looking out at life. Standing at the edge of life and screaming.

While all the acting is noteworthy, including a hilarious cameo by Method Man (yes, that's right Method Man), it is Natalie Portman who steals the show. Sam is in essence the adult version of her character from Beautiful Girls. She's 26, but an old soul. It his in her that the movie comes out the realm of quirky off-kilter comedy and gains heart, soul, and intimacy all to rare to achieve in films these days. Bravo Ms. Portman. In addition, Peter Sarsgaard is becoming one of my new favorite actors, after having seen him in this film, Shattared Glass, and Boys Don't Cry within a matter of approximately three weeks.

I will go on record an call Garden State a masterpiece. It does exactly what films are supposed to do, take from all areas of art and incorporate them into one. It is a passionate mixture of visual flare, tremendous dialogue, hip music, and heart-warming pathos. I encourage anyone who is young to see this film. See it with the people you care about, this is your film, this is OUR film, and it couldn't be better.
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life is a state of mind
gerbowski21 January 2005
First off, for anyone thinking about seeing this movie, go do it!! No matter what anyone has told you already about the film. I notice a lot of people writing that they didn't like Garden State and that's fine, I personally thought it was excellent. To me it was real life on film, and within that real life there are very different people. Unfortunately not everyone wants to see movies that remind them of reality, and I guess not everybodies reality is the same as mine. Even so Garden State is well worth the watching, if only to remind us that the comatose state most of us live in is only temporary, and the joy of a life well lived is forever.
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A blooming, Wonderful Garden State!
debfez14 December 2004
'Garden State' came out in the Uk on December 10th. I had heard wonderful things about it from friends and relatives in the US - I wasn't disappointed...

From start to finish, the film made me laugh and cry. I thought the opening in which we met Braff lying emotionless in bed. Listening to the answer machine message from his dad about his mother's death was disturbing and really drew me in.

So many memorable moments: The funeral, touching and funny, the party scenes, the scan scene...And as for the dialogue - well, sharp and witty. I don't think I will ever forget Natalie Portman's dancing in her bedroom - just to be 'unique' or Zach Braff's touching comments about what makes a 'home' in the swimming pool.

Even those touching moments were funny; the fact that he couldn't swim!

As a mid twenty-something, This film really spoke to me. It's that question we all dread. We've graduated university, got jobs....then what?

Fantastic...just a shame it is not on wide release here...

One of the best films I have seen in ages!

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In Garden State, a young man (Zach Braff) returns to his hometown for his mother's funeral and finds love.
sunkilmoontipton23 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Garden grew on me. It kept replaying in my mind. It reminded me of the movie The Graduate (no slight praise) for many reasons, not the least of which was the soundtrack which included a song by Simon and Garfunkel. I mean, why include an old song by S&G in the middle of a host of contemporary artists - it must have been done on purpose - right? And the pool scene, although different than Hoffman's, still serves to illustrate Andrew Largeman's alienation.

Much like the Graduate, it was the little things that got to me. The escalators heading in two directions at the end, the making of a completely original dance, the touching of the father, the arc on the edge of the abyss, the silent Velcro...I could go on.

Natalie Portman got to me too. Playing the role of a goofy, epileptic but cute, hometown girl, she steals the show. She hits all the right notes. She is responsible for the death by tread-wheel of a loved one, she habitually lies, and she's slightly crazy, but Andrew and we can't help falling in love with her.

Movies like this are rare. Lots worth looking at, lots worth listening to, lots to think about, lots to feel good about. I hope Braff (star, writer, director) has a few more like this in him.
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Wonderful Effort From First Time Writer/Director Zack Braff
JoshRoessler24 February 2004
I really loved this movie. I mean, really. So it surprised me to come here and find it rated so low.

By no means is this a perfect movie. It can be slow or awkward from time to time and there are one or two moments that just don't work. But. By and large I was really impressed.

It's a great little story with just the right balance of comedy and drama, full of quirky characters and interesting performances. Ian Holm demands attention, as always, and Natalie Portman's Sam, while offputting at first, definitely grew on me as she grew into a real character.

But the real story here is Zack Braff. It should surprise no one who has ever watched Scrubs that his performance keeps the movie together; or that he is able to create a jokey, distant, somewhat sarcastic character who also elicits real empathy from the audience and manages to emanate deep wounds. What amazes me is the work he has done here as a first time writer/director.

First off, there is an actual narrative here with meaning and relevance. Too often, the big Hollywood movies will have a plot that resolves itself, but means nothing; on the flip side, independent movies almost seem to disdain plot for mood and thematic concerns. Braff is able to weave both together--a difficult task for a young writer. The dialogue is witty, plot situations intelligent and creative, and overall the writing is just--good.

As for his directing, there are a few odd choices. I'm still not sure I like one scene the main characters are screaming into a deep ravine and the camera sweeps away into said ravine. It just tossed me out of the movie a bit. I'm also not completely sure what to make of the movie's ending, which I won't go into further except to say that I felt it almost changed the focus of the movie up to that point and made it about something else. However, there are moments of absolutely beauty as well, here. The entire scene where Sam and Andrew talk in his friend's pool has some great shots, and Braff's comedic flair and timing are evident in his directing style, which still manages to pull back for the more dramatic and poignant moments.

I urge you to see this movie. It's not a "big" movie. It was never meant to be. But I have little doubt that, once it finds an audience, it will be remembered for years to come. Sort of a modern day Graduate with a more hopeful outlook on life.
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Garden flower
stensson23 January 2005
Zach Braff has made it. Both script, directing and main acting, and everything is more than all right. This is a film without violence about people living ordinary extra-ordinary lives and it's much more interesting than extra-ordinary murders, which very, very few, even in the USA, encounter.

The "hero" has been going on tranquilizers for all his grown up-life and even before that. He's got no feelings left, not even for the death of his mother. Then he meets a girl, well acted indeed by Natalie Portman, who unlocks him slowly, saying the right things all the time without knowing it.

Hours after you've seen this, you realize that here was a crucial moment, this was a turning point and so on. The love story gets a little sentimental at the end, but still this is a film that lives long after you've seen it through.
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I really got it
serenity-1210 December 2004
Movies with guns, explosions, Barbie/ken romance... You know the drill. They can be good films, but it's rare I ever relate to those movies.

I *really* related to this movie - both the main character played by Zach, and the pure concept and analogy on display here. This film earns itself a place in my DVD collection upon release for the sheer fact it matches my 20-something experience to a huge degree, and all the feelings along the way.

Normally films such as this tend to end up becoming "coming of age" stories - this isn't. It's simply about living life, but not knowing why you are living it.

An excellent film on many levels - 10/10.
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Very impressed
britni4418 December 2004
I would give Garden State a 9 out of 10. The only reason I'm not giving it a perfect 10 is b/c it had a slow start. Besides that this movie overwhelmingly surprised me with its directing and acting. Natatlie Portman did an amazing job playing Sam. She really worked the part. Zach Braff's directing debut is stunning. I had never heard of Braff except for his character on the TV show Scrubs. He also did an excellent job acting. There were so many surprising elements thrown out during the movie. Braff just kept piling one thing on top of the next to make the story more interesting as it rolled on. I was very pleased with Garden State!!!!!!!!!11
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We all have dreams, I know I do
daveisit29 December 2004
This was almost the perfect movie. The acting was great, the direction was great, the script was brilliant, and the location shoots were perfect. Probably the most amazing thing about this movie was the screen stealing show stopping performance of Natalie Portman. She showed this brilliance in "Leon" aka "The Professional", and once again amazed with her talent. It contains different humour to your usual American movie and was a needed hit in the movie circles of 2004.

My only problem was a little part of the story that seemed out of place and not needed. This is not a spoiler, it is his friends wealth and invention. They just seemed unnecessary to me. This is a minor complaint and I eagerly anticipate Zach's next work. He could quite possibly end out being more famous behind the camera than in front of it.
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Great little movie, great acting by Natalie and Peter
daobankechi21 September 2004
A very promising film debut by Zach Braff.

The plot isn't all that original, the movie isn't all that flawless, but "Garden State" has a unique and sincere quality which make it totally differ from other flicks. In short, this movie is "real" and sensational.

Let's not forget about the acting. Zach was lucky enough to have two of the very best young actors starring in his movie: Natalie Portman and Peter Sarsgaard. Especially Nat Portman, her Sam is so lovable that I just want to give her a big huge. Her smile lights up the screen. NP's character and acting are definitely the highlights of "Garden State".

8 out of 10. Very touching.
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Perhaps the most cliché/melodramatic/contrived/trite/you get the idea movie
robototron26 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I have no qualms with how the movie does NOT capture New Jersey (like Zach, I'm from there). Fine. Whatever. I lived there WAY long enough. I don't need to see a movie that captures the Garden State.

What I do have qualms with is how bad this movie is. Let's make it easy on you. We'll use some bullet-points. There are probably some spoilers that follow. (Not that you wouldn't be able to predict the movie ANYWAY):

-The music placement was maddeningly forced and patronizing. Example: Large: "What are you listening to?" Sam: "The Shins. Ever heard of 'em?" "No." "Listen to this song - it will change your life!" And then they proceed to play that Shins song that was in a McDonalds commercial. (Don't you love when the characters in a movie blatantly tell you - the viewer - how to react to something? I love that! Hey, they should have put subtitles during various scenes instructing us to "chuckle," "Say 'aaaaaw'" "cry" "feel inspired" etc.)

-The scenes were SO BAD. SO Cliché. SO MELODRAMATIC. Example: The entire movie. But no, really, example: They're in the rainy quarry by the ark. Large runs up - in the pouring rain (oh he's SO TORMENTED!) - on top of a piece of heavy machinery and SCREAMS! Oh how moving! But wait! Here comes Sam and his buddy (the annoying drug addict), and they ALL SCREAM!!!! BUT WAIT!!!! OH MY GOD!!!! Here it comes! THEY KISS!!! LONG, DEEP!!!! IN THE RAIN!!!!!!!!

-The dialogue was SO BAD. SO Cliché. SO MELODRAMATIC. Example. They're leaving the ark and Sam says something like, "Hey. Good luck exploring the infinite abyss." And the guy says back, "You, too." Oh...Oh my! I never realized...could it be? Oh my God it is! Large's life is like...ohmigod...AN INFINITE ABYSS!!!! Another example: Large and Sam in the airport. Sam says something like, "Is this goodbye?" Not enough for ya? OK, Largeman says something like, "This isn't a period at the end of the sentence... it's an ellipses." And guess what happens when he tries to walk down the jetway and go back to his life in LA. You know, what? Don't guess. It's a waste of your time.

-It's a Grade Z Wes Anderson rip-off movie. When not busy being melodramatic and cliché, the movie spends lots of times with crazy-kooky-off-kilter characters. Hey, Sam's brother... thank you Zach Braff for including him, because it really made the movie so much more textured. Also ripping off Anderson: the dialogue. Scene: Sam and Largeman are in a bar. In walks friends, "Vagina!" says one of them. Then they see him sitting with Sam, so one of the friends says, "Sorry I said vagina." And Sam says, "It's OK."

-Inventive cinematography that's not inventive but pointless and annoying. Give me a break with the speed-up/slow down of film. Again, Wes Anderson does it effectively in his movies. And it was done well in "Donnie Darko." But, really, it was pointless. Wow. A crazy party where people are taking X and snorting coke. Better roll out all the tricks!

-You can count the good moments on one hand (even if you're missing fingers). That's what makes it even WORSE. The retarded quarterback thing...well, that was good! The little thing he (largeman) says as they're about to enter the quarry (something about huffing turpentine)...that was good! Oh, wait, that's about it.

You know, Zach Braff is, I think, always a little too cute. But, he's likable. But, man, this is forced, pretentious, melodramatic (have you gotten that yet?), overly cute, overly everything. This movie is terrible. Apparently, I'm outnumbered, as this waste of time is currently rated an 8.0.

Please, though, if you're looking for something truly poignant and subtle and unique DO. NOT. RENT. THIS. MOVIE.
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Over-rated and under-written: Zach Braff's ego trip
Ashes201 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Garden State must rate amongst the most contrived and pretentious films of all time. The plot is a simple one, involving a young man returning home after his mother's death and discovering love. But really, the plot isn't important. What is important to Zach Braff - writer, director, and star – is that he is able to hang from the plot all the necessary accoutrements of an 'indie' or 'arty' film. We therefore are presented with endless cute and quirky characters and scenes that don't exist for reasons of plot or character development, but simply to give some artistic credibility to the film (à la Wes Anderson - or so Braff hopes). Unfortunately and somewhat astonishingly, Braff has not only fooled many on IMDb, but also some critics who really ought to have known better.

Of course, Braff's gratuitous use of the quirky alone does not make Garden State a bad film. What really makes Garden State a stinker is Braff's script. He simply does not have the writing skills to carry this film off, and the dialogue and characterisation are abysmal. Braff often has to resort to blunt devises and symbolism to achieve what he can't achieve through the writing. For example, the numbness of the Braff character is shown to us by his indifference to an impending plane crash (this can't be worked into the plot, and so has to take place in a dream!), later he is shown fighting back against his circumstances by screaming into a bottomless abyss (life = a bottomless abyss, very clever Mr Braff). Those two scenes must rank amongst the most ludicrous and contrived ever seen on a cinema screen.

On the plus side, the acting is passable despite the lack of material for the cast to work with (by which I mean a script), and I do admire Natalie Portman for her efforts as the love interest - a character so badly written and implausible that she is little more than a mindless doll that Braff moulds into his fantasy woman.

It apparently took Braff 3 years to write the script for Garden State (3 years to write a script this bad - he really is inept!). Hopefully therefore it will be some time before he makes another film.
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Don't Bother
rulistening52119 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Garden State was a mediocre film at best. The film seems more like a compilation of thoughts that the writer (Zach Braff) had, rather than a cohesive story. The disjointed plot may have been more engaging if it weren't interspersed with pointless scenes that were nothing more than "quirky." Coincidentally these scenes are often the ones that are relayed in conversation (Zack walking past faucets that turn on as he passes, crazy under-cranked party scene, shouting over a gorge, the list goes on).

The main character is flat, disengaging, and ultimately unlikable, which is exhibited most in the scene where he talks to his father, selfishly ignoring his fathers problems, including a recently deceased wife, and droning on about his own "What am I to do with my life?" problem.

The film ends when Andrew (Zach Braff) decides not to go back to LA because he cannot tear himself from the love of his life, Sam (Natalie Portman) whom he has known for 2 days. Which can only lead me to the conclusion that the message of the film is that love at first sight cures occupational dilemmas... Sure you could interpret it as a misappropriation of priorities, but if that is the case it could have been done better. Much better.

This film does not know what it wants to be. A drama, a comedy, a teenage-wasteland film, or a gamut of other things. I say this not as a single-genre oriented person, but as a person who loves multi-genre pieces such as those mastered by Stanley Kubrick. The reason I feel it does not work for Garden State is because rather than blending the genres together, it jumps around; one scene is one genre, the next another, and back again, so on.

I have heard many people tell me to cut Zach Braff some slack, after all it was his first feature film and he debuted as Director, Writer, and lead actor. Impressive as it was a first film, I should think that with as much money as he has, he could do better. There have been much better first-time feature film directors (Michel Gondry "Human Nature", David Gordon Green "George Washington"). Maybe if he stuck to writing OR directing OR acting it would have been better. Zach Braff is a talented performer, maybe his second attempt won't be so tedious and disjointed.
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Pure schmalz and awfulness
alistairp23 October 2006
Wave after wave of directionless nausea - this film wants and at first promises to be quirky and original but is in fact obvious, solipsistic and mired in cliché-driven dialogue which builds to a crecendo of awfulness and cheese by the end. Throughout the film we meet supposedly off the wall characters, who are actually very dull, and just don't quite work and who clunk through the horrific screenplay like men in armour suits, driving jeeps through mansion houses and spouting preppy existential obviousness accompanied by the whinings of Coldplay. The film has occasional funny episodes, often no funnier than a dog playing with its genitals, which happened twice (an index of the slapstick, rudimentary humour of the film in general) but by the end, the film falls into an 'infinite abyss' of complete detritus and the director's egocentric ramblings which made me want to gouge my eyes out. Watch this film at your peril.
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Vastly overrated
Agent1027 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
For those that might send me nasty e-mails, shove it. There is a trend in Hollywood where those that create overly-quirky movies are instantly impervious to criticism. Garden State tends to be one of those movies.

Sure, Zach Braff, star of a rather overrated sitcom, surprises people with some talent behind the camera, but that doesn't warrant the kind of praise that a film like this has been receiving. The story is often times too thin and shallow to provide any real insight. People have compared this film to The Graduate, but those type of people are the types that try to oversell independent cinema. Indie films are subject to the same hit and miss mentality that typically hits the studio films, but people seemed to have forgotten that there are far more bad indie films than good ones. Garden State isn't atrocious, but its isn't great.

First off, the film is too quick, resulting in a rather fast reemergence of Large into his former life. After ten years, people tend to act like he never left. Where's the awkwardness? Of course, the situation is always solved by a quick drug tasting scene (which I will say was portrayed rather accurately). The film seem to present a lot of emotional inequities, giving us the idea that the emotion will come up later in a more deeper and more well thought out way. However, it fails to deliver on those fronts, leaving us wondering why the journey to some of his decisions and moments were quickly resolved (like Peter Saarsgard's grave robbing tendencies). It wasn't completely abysmal, but maybe we should stop praising the film as something it isn't.
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Whats the big Idea?
spiro_sea13 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I'm 25 years old. Let me start my review by saying that. So this movie is supposed to be the movie for "my generation" I don't think so somehow For me this was one of the most overrated movies ever made. Self indulgent and totally unaffecting, only once was I moved by something that happened on screen. Whilst the acting was good and the soundtrack was very hip, the script was full of self important lines and the whole movie left me wondering why they had bothered.

Don't get me wroung, I see this is a movie with some merit and I also see that for many, this movie has been as affecting as say "Donnie Darko" was to me, but I don't see why. There is nothing behind that awkward smile that Braff wears throughout, the movie has no soul.

Having said that, I realise this is not a popular opinion, but I stand by it that I have seldom heard a movie talked up more and lack this much depth before.

However the scene where Braff talks about his departed mother, about how pure a mothers love can be, was pretty good. But the rest of it, just fell totally flat Biggest letdown since "Cold Mountain"
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Impact of emotions!
Dainius888826 July 2011
Remember a time, when you see a movie, that really gets you watching it. A movie, that leaves such an impact on you, you stay speechless for some time. And in that moment of silent serenity, you forget about all your troubles and become happy. Well, This movie is definitely one of those extraordinary films.

The story of this film is about life. About living life. It actually is, in fact, quite a simple plot, but the way it is shown is truly remarkable. It sets of on a depressed mood, and gradually reaches a beautiful climax of a really positive epiphany at the end. This life defining atmosphere goes really well with every other aspect the movie uses, like philosophical dialogs between characters, family relationships, the main character's drama, etc. The performances of all the actors are, without a doubt, amazing. Zach Braff, who plays the main character, gives a terrific performance portraying a disturbed, puzzled young man, who is searching for something in life. Such a character is probably the embodiment of a massive number of teenagers and other young people in the world, who are searching for a purpose in life. Therefore, I think that any disturbed young soul, who watches this film, will feel a deep connection between himself and this character. Natalie Portman also gives an equally, if not an even better, appearance on screen. Her acting is truly flawless in this movie, and for that matter probably every other movie she has appeared in. And another appealing thing, worth mentioning, is the absolutely outstanding soundtracks of this movie. It is amazing how well the music matches the atmosphere. Seeing some of the dramatic scenes along with this astonishing music will touch you emotionally.

So, all in all, Amazing story about life, followed by terrific performance and outstanding atmosphere. Three essential elements. which, combined, will surely make an emotional impact to anyone who sees this perfect movie.
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An Unpolished Movie With Blatant First-Timer Mistakes
mzazaian28 August 2004
Perhaps the most notable and visible issue with this film is the narrative structure. The writing is done in a sort of encounter-to-encounter style, like a layman's Odyssey. I feel though that this is not a result of a specific film styling but rather poor writing on the part of Zach Braff, who, mind you, is not the Epstein brothers (of Casablanca fame) but rather a TV actor who is breaking into the big screen for the first time. As a result, plot weaving becomes non-existent, and character development, even in the case of Large (the main character) is shallow and doesn't really show much change, or rather, the script doesn't provide an opportunity for change. When he then has an epiphany at the end of the film, a terribly contrived moment, he praddles off everything that he already knew as if it were terribly profound, and the moment entirely misses.

Also, characters, specifically Large, seem to go off on philosophical tangents which are neither profound nor insightful, but seem to be what he really wants the audience to derive from his movie. In this classic case of "Telling" instead of "showing," I personally was annoyed as I felt that as an intelligent viewer I didn't need to be spoon-fed these ideas but rather, as in any well-written movie or literary piece, could have derived them from the work itself without them being thrown into my face.

Please keep in mind that this was something of a Devil's advocate opinion as I did enjoy parts of the film, and certainly recommend it above most of the other films in theaters now.
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Not as advertised, I want my money back. NOW!
cleveralice16 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
"Garden State" takes bandwagon to a whole another level. This movie is the biggest disappointment of the year. 'Garden State" is crappy in so many ways that I don't even know where to start. The trailer I saw in March was ten thousand times better than this pathetic dribble pawned off as a movie. Like, seriously, do you think Braff had enough clichéd characters? Oh, and not to mention the in your face dumb did he expect his audience to be? I got it during the "we get high together" mother/son scene, Andrew craved a loving family...the Noah's Ark family was so not needed.

The writing reeked, I felt like I was in my Fiction Writing 101 class. Braff forces the story along; there was nothing natural about it, especially, the "pause" dramatic moments. Sam was annoying as hell, with the "I'm going to be cute until you smile" shtick. And the supposed romantic connection between Andrew and Sam was as sparkly as a flat line. "Garden State" was all over the place, by the end of the movie, I felt like I was doped up on lithium all my life. This is the only explanation I can think of for wasting over an hour of my precious life.
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weak improbably plot, dull characters except for "the girl". dumb climax
fsteinca29 July 2006
A third rate slacker movie. The only original parts of the movie are the plot flaws. The female lead is endearing and convincing. The main character and all his friends are the kind of people that would make you leave the room in real life - boring, self-absorbed, low self esteem, and sleazy. The hero climaxes three times - pun intended. First he tells off his father - but the set up is contrived. His father is conveniently the fall guy for the hero's own nothing life. Then he cruelly leaves the adorable girl for his nothing life in CA. Then he returns to the adorable girl. Duh, he is nothing without her. Sorry for the hackneyed phase, 'nohing without her' but his life up to that point has been a zero.
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Garden State of mind.
hall1000019 December 2004
GARDEN STATE a film by Zach Braff.

What ever happened to the BREAKFAST CLUB kids? well they headed down to middle suburbia in the garden state where angst has turned into an utterly depressing feeling and reality is not a place where you wanna spend 24 hours a day. Andrew (BRAFF) is a failed actor trying to make it in LA, when his mother dies he is forced to go back to his town in New Jersey for a couple of days where he reencounters his past. This might sound familiar till you met the Klingon medieval knight, the man who reinvented the wheel with a twist and the misfits version of Noe's biblical apocalypse, to top that Andrew's family is the mount Himalayas of dysfunctional families facing a Murphy's law gone mad kind of scenario. He put his mother on a wheel chair when he was nine and has his own father giving psychiatric advice and a lot of pills. The last thing I would expect from the funny doctor of SCRUBS is to write, direct and act in what is hands down the best story of the year. Already comparisons with ALLEN let me tell you that for a debut feature he has managed to trash the early years and move straight to the best subtle blend of comedy and drama that are MANHATTAN and ANNIE HALL. There is nothing classic about the structure that works as a relentless succession of magic moments chain together with great gags. Something that opens musically with COLDPLAY can not possibly go wrong and it doesn't, gets even better when we are introduced to the song "that will change your life, I promise" or so says Sam (NATALIE PORTMAN), I'm not sure if somethings can be change that easy but certainly will have you running to buy the soundtrack when the credits roll, the song NEW SLANG... the band THE SHINS. BRAFF acts his way out even when he struggles with the more dramatic bits thanks to his companions. I have never understood all the buzz with PORTMAN so he played an OK role in LEON and moved on to the galaxy far away... so what? I really think this is the turning point for her, at least she has been given the chance to chew a very challenging persona and delivers an honest performance and then we get PETER SARSGARD who is mastering the art of getting great chunks of acting from the STAR WARS puppets as he did with VADER in SHATTERED GLASS. He is the most talented actor of this crew following GABRIEL BYRNE advice that in acting the most important things are looks, movements and silences. In the best year for both music and films since the Tarantino revolution I dare to say, if you only watch one film this year make it to GARDEN STATE and you better make it quick because HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS may have that edge. Like the SHINS would say "it's a luscious mix of words and tricks", watch it. *****
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In the Waiting Line
nycritic26 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
GARDEN STATE has an unsettling opening scene. Passengers aboard a flight that is going terrifically wrong -- bound to crash as a matter of fact -- screaming, crying, the flight attendant desperate to regain control even when it's clear she might fail, oxygen masks dropping like ripe fruit asking to be picked. A young woman clutches a baby to our left of the screen, and an older woman seen to our right is also in those horrific moments of hysteria. A young man, though, smack in the middle, does nothing, says nothing, but looks straight ahead, eyes a blank.

Of course, this is a dream. No such thing is occurring, and even when it could signify the terror aboard a doomed flight in the wake of 9-11 sensibilities and the current release of UNITED 93 at the Tribeca Film Festival. But the young man seen in this dream sequence awakens to an empty room, lying in bed in a stupor, ignoring his father's message (not for the first time). His mother has died, the message says. There must be some action to be taken.

Andrew Largeman, the man in the dream, the man in his own dream, caught in his own world and unable to be quite there for the people around him. Much of the movie debates on where he as a man in his late twenties is going: true, he's becoming a rising success in the acting world, but as a person, he's incomplete. Zach Braff, who plays a hilarious clown on TV's "Scrubs" which has been on the air for five years, does a muted interpretation of Largeman. He makes Largeman a shy, soft-spoken guy whom you would probably pass by the street and not notice his presence. Although, thankfully for him, someone does: a young girl who lives in her own awkward sense of freedom named Sam.

Here is where the movie goes into self-conscious cuteness and throws a cursory nod to films like THE GRADUATE. While there are no Mrs. Robinsons to be found here (except in the role Jean Smart plays, but she's only in the movie for about five minutes of screen time and is never to be seen again), Sam has a lot of Elaine in her, but with an MTV feel. She's a free spirit, she loves a group called The Shin, she expresses herself as if she were from her own world, and sure enough -- she also brings life into the lifeless personality of Largeman. Natalie Portman makes this a unique role, though: there is a quirkiness about her that belies a tremendous sensibility which works for the role even when the role, somehow similar to the one Kirsten Dunst played in ELIZABETHTOWN, can be annoying.

GARDEN STATE is also given a look that feels smarter than it is, but this is clever directing, camera angles, style over substance, and honest acting from even the actors in small roles. I have a sneaking feeling this got better reviews than it should have, more so because it's Zach Braff's debut film and while its pacing is a little choppy and there are one too many scenes of overall "cleverness", and completely cops out at the end without a moment's transition, it's a good watch, entertaining, sensitive, and I hope there will be more to come from Braff.
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fine first step up the ladder for Braff
TheNorthernMonkee13 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers
SPOILERS Every once in a while comes another film which claims it understands that lost era of life called the twenties. Attempting to show how for a decade a whole generation can feel lost, these films are often over-hyped and inaccurate. In his debut feature however, Zach Braff is able to fix this with a superb film about that era of our lives when we never really know where we're going.

At the age of 29, Braff, best known for his role as J.D. in "Scrubs" is well aware of how we can get lost in an age where we continue to put off our futures whilst we spend our times on different types of drug. Speaking in a recent interview for UGC Unlimited Magazine (Dec - Jan issue), Braff said: "I think your teen years are your body's puberty and your twenties are your mind's puberty." Whether Braff is right in his views or not, in his written and directorial debut, all his characters find themselves going nowhere in life.

Braff plays Andrew Largeman, an actor in Los Angeles. On medication since the age of ten, "Large" has been numb for as long as he can remember. Therefore when his estranged father (Ian Holm) rings with the news of his mothers death, the original reaction is far from reactive. Returning home for the first time in almost a decade however, he decides to skip his medication for once and go on a holiday from himself. As his body detoxifies, "Large" encounters his old school friends and the bouncy Sam (Natalie Portman) and begins to question whether the prescribed drugs were actually good for him or not.

"Garden State" is a brilliant first step for Braff. With characters who all suffer and to a degree feel lost, the characterisation is wonderful and the bond which the audience develops is huge. We all care for Braff's main character as he begins to finally experience life, and we all associate with Sam and Large's best friend Mark (Peter Sarsgaard). All three characters have to one degree or another suffered as a result of their parents, and we can all sympathies with that combination of embarrassment and love.

The plot as well is superb in it's detail. Starting with some good laughs at the start which do dwindle in number towards the end, the story keeps us gripped and involved. Whilst it does collapse towards the end as Braff writes a conclusion containing a few too many conventions, the script never relents from keeping us in touch with the characters.

Perhaps one of the finest things about this film is it's soundtrack. Created by Braff as well, this soundtrack has been nominated for awards and was at least partly responsible for convincing Natalie Portman to take the role of Sam. With the right sort of beat at the right moments, Braff's soundtrack adds to the joy of the film and makes it even more something for him to be proud of.

"Garden State" is a VERY good first step up the ladder for Zach Braff. Capturing the twenties with ease, Braff tells an engaging story which keeps the audience hooked from start to finish. With a stunning soundtrack and amazing characterisation, Braff makes us think and feel as his character of "Large" rediscovers himself. Admittedly Braff's one flaw is the slightly too "play it by numbers" finale which rounds itself off too nicely, but even then, we never loose interest. A wonderful first feature for Braff and a positive sign for the future.
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Like a bad student film.
murdertogo30 January 2005
The fact that the movie made only 26 mil in 26 weeks clearly shows how poorly it was written. This, of course, is a common problem with actor ego projects. The story has many unnecessary scenes that don't connect or contribute at all to the story or characters but are thrown in for the sake of getting a cheap laugh - like the knight in the kitchen and the fast motion party scenes. The entire film is full of extra meaningless shots and scenes that could easily be and should have been cut. Why should we care about this character? The film contains virtually no conflict or drama, or emotion, or humor, or cleverness or originality. We have no reason to care one way or the other about Graff. Other than the girlfriend, who is well written, everyone else is straight out of a bad college student film, as are most of the scenes and the story in general. The movie was so concerned with trying to be anti-Hollywood that it failed to be anything else but that. There is virtually no story here, just style in place of substance, and the style isn't even new or different - rather straight from the 70s. So if you're a college student longing for the old days of the 60s & 70s, you'll really enjoy this film. For the rest of the world - well, Nepolion Dynamite made almost double the box office and that wasn't so great either, but at least it was original.
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Very Overrated
briansounalath29 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I watched this movie with my sister and her husband. My sister fell asleep 30 mins into the movie.

This is the main problem with this movie. It's very slow. I understand the introspective, somewhat disoriented slant on life Braff's character has, but I found myself unable to connect with his character. So after the fact, I realize that this movie is hit or miss and unfortunately it was way off the mark with me.

Besides the already noted, telling instead of showing tactics used to try to explain things, my problem was even WITH the forced expository, I was very confused. Moments that were meant to serve as climatic revelations in his life had no build up and felt forced. These moments were for me as the audience supposed to make me feel something, yet only left me confused and actual angry that those moments were not well executed.

There are a couple of bright moments like the scene of the shirt at the funeral and the Portman and Braff's scenes towards the end, but in the end I just didn't care.

By the way, Portman was amazing as always and her charisma and originality she brought to a role that could be easily played with stereotypes was excellent. Check her out in Closer.
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