Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Garden State

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 September 2004 at Landmark Kendall Square #1 (first-run)

Garden State had one of those trailers - the beautiful ones which don't actually tell you the plot of the movie, but which intrigue you with interesting images and music selections. That's a refreshing sort of trailer, but it's best when it's not a completely accurate representation of the movie.

The first half of Garden State quite frankly drove me nuts. The movie was in quirky overload, introducing a new weird character seemingly every two minutes. And I know it's not actually the case, but two or three times it seemed like writer/director/star Zach Braff has built a musical montage or some other sequence for no better reason than liking the song. The movie starts with a solid half-hour or forty-five minutes of that, and it's a rickety foundation for a movie.

And then, there's a good scene. A really good scene. Braff's character Andrew Largeman finally does something more than look on with overmedicated detachment and Natalie Portman's Samantha dials the tics back long enough to deliver a heartfelt eulogy for her dead hamster. After what seems like a long first act, the movie finally starts to treat its characters as something more than a freakshow.

And maybe that's intentional. We learn that Largeman's psychiatrist father (Ian Holm) has had "Large" on lithium and other drugs since the age of ten, but that the son went off his meds for the trip back to New Jersey for his mother's funeral. So perhaps Braff is trying to put us into Andrew's head by making the world and the characters in it seem somewhat detached and unfeeling. It works well enough, if that's the plan, but the little "check it out - quirky!" bits do continue almost to the end.

The scenes with Braff and Portman from the hamster funeral on are pretty close to gold, and easily the film's highlights. Holm is as good as one would expect, a clenched fist of restraint and tension amid the wackiness of the rest of the town. The rest of the cast, to be quite honest, seems to be trying to hard most of the time.

Which can also be said for Braff. Though he wrote himself a restrained character, everything else seems a little overdone. He's got good ideas, but doesn't seem to recognize when he's drifted into "too much" territory. Still, it's an impressive debut for whose resumé is mostly starring in Scrubs. It will be interesting to see whether Braff refines his craft for his sophomore effort, or whether he takes the good critical notices Garden State has received and stands pat.

My brother and a bunch of other folks I respect are using superlatives to describe this movie; I can't quite muster up that level of enthusiasm. It's a good movie, though, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if there is, in fact, a great movie in Braff's future.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey -- if you like the songs on the Garden State Soundtrack, you should check out a band called the Baskervilles... They sound great --- like a lot of the stuff on the Garden State CD. The Baskervilles have 2 CDs available, I think. I got both of them on their record label's site -- http://www.secretcrushrecords.com , but I think they are on Amazon too... If you got to the Secret Crush site you can hear samples from their new CD "Midnight". Trust me, you'll love this band!