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Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) returns to his New 'Garden State' Jersey home for the funeral of his mother, after yet another phone call from his father (Ian Holm) whose calls he never returns. Andrew is a mid-range tv actor in Los Angeles these days, and on his return, his few old friends gather round. Until now, Andrew has been taking a vast array of lithium-based pills, prescribed by his psychiatrist father, since he was 9, when in a fit of frustration with his depressed mother, he gave her a shove, which sent her flying over the faulty door of the dishwasher and broke her neck. The pills have kept him in a state of emotional and intellectual limbo, and he takes a break from them for the funeral. Simultaneously, at a party with his friends, he meets Sam (Natalie Portman), whose offbeat personality and natural warmth give Andrew a new look at the joyous pains of life.

Review by Louise Keller:
There's plenty to engage us in this character-driven story about a young man who returns to his roots and discovers the meaning of his life. The story may not be new, but the characters are fresh and the performances vibrant from the young ensemble cast. I enjoyed the quirky humour that comes from honest observation, and writer/director Zach Braff, who is also the film's star, delights at discovering incongruities from all each of his characters.

Garden State is about dysfunctional families, and searching for change. Braff's protagonist Andrew is at the crossroads when he comes home to the Garden State of New Jersey for his mother's funeral. Try as he might, Andrew has never been allowed to forget the freak accident when he was nine, that rendered his mother a paraplegic. Estranged from his father (who is also his psychiatrist), Andrew has been living a mechanical life in LA, working as a second-rate actor and part time waiter, all the while sedated by a cocktail of anti-depressants. He is not in control of his life or his emotions.

When he meets Sam (Natalie Portman, lovely), his life changes. She is warm, emotional and enthusiastic - everything he is not. His LA apartment (like his father's house) is stark and totally stripped of personality; her house is chaotic with unruly pets and an unconventional family. She cries at the drop of a hat; he cannot shed a tear. There's a lovely scene in which they exchange confidences, while fully dressed in the bathtub. Sam tries to capture a runaway tear from Andrew's left eye, into a waiting paper cup.

We see life through Andrew's eyes, as he runs into his former school friends, and sees first hand that their lives have not amounted to much. Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) is a grave-digger, who has little aspirations beyond his Desert Storm card collection. Living by his own moral code, he makes extra money by robbing the dead of their jewellery. There's a former drug-dealer turned cop, a waiter from the local medieval restaurant chain who wears a knight's armour and an eccentric who lives in a Noah's ark-like caravan on the edge of a precipice. His father (Ian Holm) is a shell of a man, unable to relate to his son or communicate with him.

If there's a shortcoming to the film, it's in the fact that there is no great sense of place. The story could be set anywhere. Perhaps Braff's alternate title of Large's Ark would have been more apt. Performances, however are excellent, and we can relate to each character. Braff is likeable as the emotionally lost Andrew, while Portman steals our heart as vulnerable Sam. The strength of the film likes in its acute observations of the contradictory nature of human behaviour, leaving us well satisfied.

The DVD offers commentaries, deleted scenes with optional commentary, a behind the scenes feature, outtakes and bloopers.

Published June 16, 2006

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CAST: Zach Braff, Ian Holm, Ron Leibman, Method Man, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Jean Smart, Ann Dowd, Denis O'Hare, Geoffrey Arend, Alex Burns, Jackie Hoffman, Armando Riesco

PRODUCER: Pamela Abdy, Richard Klubeck, Gary Gilbert, Dan Halsted

DIRECTOR: Zach Braff

SCRIPT: Zach Braff


EDITOR: Myron Kerstein

MUSIC: Chad Fischer


RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 25, 2004


SPECIAL FEATURES: Feature Commentaries; Deleted Scenes with optional commentary; Making of Garden State; Outtakes/Bloopers; Soundtrack promo spot


DVD RELEASE: May 25, 2005

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