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"Garden State"

Directed by Zach Braff.
Written by Zach Braff.
Starring Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard and Ian Holm.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  7/12/04


Once again, it was time for another freebie courtesy of Tricia "Hot" Ocampo, this time the new film from that cute lil' kid from "Scrubs", Zach Braff.  "Garden State" is Braff's writing and directorial debut, so even though I have only seen his TV show once, you can't really go wrong with free.  As an added bonus, Braff was in DC today to do some Q&A after the film was over.

"Garden State" is about a struggling actor/waiter living in LA, Andrew Largeman (Braff), who is flailing away as a bit parts actor in Hollywood when he gets a call from his father (Ian Holm)...Mom has died.  So, even though he hasn't been home in almost 10 years, he flies back to his hometown in New Jersey, where he runs into a cast of characters straight out of Oddball University, like a drug-dealing gravedigger (Peter Sarsgaard), a seizure-prone day laborer named Sam (Natalie Portman), and even a bellhop/underground porn shop operator (Method Man) all add a little something to the mix.  The movie's main plot deals with Andrew's relationship with Sam and his feelings over his failed family life and where the two intersect...yeah.

Braff is a great screen personality, and he was even funnier during the Q&A session; his charisma after what must be like the fifteenth time he has shown the film in the last three weeks alone was pretty cool to soak in.  His direction here is surprisingly good, and even though his script is peppered with the clichés that normally accompany films featuring a character that comes home for the first time in years (jeez, even in the last three months, I've seen two other films like this, "Walking Tall" and "Stateside"), his oddball characters make "Garden State" work.  The funeral of Andrew's dead mom comes off as funny, for reasons that make sense if you've seen "Old School"; shades of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" pop up during a couple of party sequences.  There are some truly funny things going on in "Garden State"; the humor is a little twisted, but it works for both your mainstreamers and your indie crowd, thanks to some great sight gags courtesy of horny dogs, medical certifications and a full suit of armor.

And, Braff gives us maybe Natalie Portman's best performance; man, you are just going to love her in "Garden State", thanks to so many little things she is doing well here.  Braff told us after the film was over that Portman wasn't even on the set longer than 10 days, and since she was picked to play the part without auditioning, some of her scenes (given a lack of any real time with the cast, whom she met while filming) come off brilliantly.  It'll be weird seeing her play that stiff Amidala in the third prequel to "Star Wars" next year, but for now, I'm happy to see her in the form that will lead to an incredible career ahead.  Sarsgaard is every bit as good as he was in "Shattered Glass", albeit with a more understated character agenda than he had in that previous effort.  The great thing about the performances in "Garden State" is that everyone seems to have their bit part down just right, and all of the pieces fit well in Braff's film...part of this has to be due to the fact that much of the film mimics his real life (he admitted as much during the Q&A), so I'm anxious to see what he'll do next in a writer/director role.

I was having a good time with this flick...but, the very VERY end of "Garden State" left my buddy Yac and I doing a scream-to-the-sky as the film falls a bit too close to convention.  But, for the first hour, man, this is a pretty funny flick that entertains and occasionally hits home but never takes you on a dreamy ride that makes you think instant classic.  We move into more drama as the film winds up, but I was cool with that, since the behavior of the characters made sense to me.  The performances and a funny script really make "Garden State" a winner.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09