Garden State

A Film Review By The Mike

< Rating:RATED R for Drug use, sexuality, and language 
Starring: Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard 
Directed By: Zach Braff 

Final Grade: 

Garden State, the first film written and directed by Zach Braff, is a film that becomes incredibly frustrating in its final act. For well over an hour, it had me in love with its quirky characters and odd situations, and the fact that it dives into the bag of overused cliches to find its conclusions had me infuriated.

One could argue this is a sign that Braff didn’t really know what to do with his idea once he got it started. It reminded me a lot of my creative writing classes in college. The idea, the setup, and the characters were always the easiest things to come up with. When did people start wondering what to do, and asking the professer and their classmates for advice? When they got to the ending. Braff, I think, suffered from the same ailment here. To his credit, he managed to end his film by wrapping things up sufficiently. But there’s definitely a feeling that he could have done it better. Can I come up with a better conclusion? Probably not. But I’m not the one writing a movie.

So far, I sound as if I hated Garden State. On the contrary, I quite loved it. It’s a film full of interesting characters in lifelike settings, that manages to be incredibly emotional and funny, sometimes at the same time. If not for its conclusion, I feel I’d be praising it as a classic.

The acting, first and foremost, is spot on. Braff is the centerpiece and handles the role well, especially in the more dramatic scenes. Peter Sarsgaard, an underrated young supporting actor, is excellent as his best friend, and bit parts from people like Ian Holm and rapper Method Man are handled perfectly. The real treat, however, is Natalie Portman as the female lead. Her character is portrayed with a vigor and joy that’s rare on the screen today, and is truly one of the more remarkable performances I’ve seen in recent memory.

The mood of the film is also great, seeming like an odd mixture of the worlds of John Hughes in the 80’s and Wes Anderson in the late 90’s. The soundtrack is used as a device in helping carry the story where it needs to go, both emotionally and literally, and Braff’s camerawork, especially in close-ups on characters facial expressions (mainly his own), is spot-on.

Still, I think that, the film would be a failure in my eyes if it weren’t for Portman’s energetic performance, thanks mainly to the ending. Garden State is a film that I both loved and was disappointed by. I’m giving the edge to the love for now, and will definitely keep an eye out for whatever Braff decides to do next. For despite all my misgivings about its story’s conclusions, I’m compelled to list Garden State as one of the better films of the year.

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