WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Andrew Largeman (Braff) returns home to New Jersey for his mother’s funeral after being away from home for close to ten years. Getting off his prescription medication for the first time in a decade, Andrew begins to finally feel real emotions again after being numb on meds practically his whole life. With the help of an old buddy (Peter Sarsgaard) and an adorable local girl named Sam (Portman) that he’s met, Andrew goes on a two-day self-exploration as he journeys through many places, physical and emotional, all in the hopes of mending his relationship with his estranged father but more importantly mending himself, as he begins to taste life again…
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
I’d seen GARDEN STATE twice already when it came out in theatres and it remained just as fresh and unique when I sat down to watch it for the third time on DVD. I suppose one of the reasons I liked it so much is because I not only related a bit to Braff’s character but also to many of the other twentysomethings in the film, most of whom aren’t really sure where they are going in life, some in fact, like Peter Sarsgaard’s character, aren’t even in a particular rush to get there. What I most appreciated though is the fact that in essence, this is really quite a simple story being told here. There is a minimum amount (just the right dosage, in fact) of quirkiness, the deeper underlying meanings aren’t shoved down your throat or explained ad nauseam and the lighter, funnier moments don’t saturate the film. All these elements help in creating a movie that doesn’t come off overbearing in the least. Often movies with great dialogue and creative direction can have those two elements completely take over the movie and the main point that the director might be trying to get across either gets lost in the shuffle or loses its punch in the end; GARDEN STATE however, comes off as a very well-meaning, unpretentious little film from a writer/director/actor that understands exactly what he wants to say and succeeds greatly in the methods he uses in saying it.
Portman and Braff’s performances have already been greatly lauded so I won’t get into too many details but suffice it to say, they’re really sympathetic, likeable characters and just knowing they’re pretty damn close to that in real life helps all the more in embracing their characters and their relationship in the movie. They are just two good people struggling and that makes it easy for the audience to hitch themselves onto their wagon. Sarsgaard, who is always interesting to watch onscreen, creates a very subdued yet equally fascinating character that you’re glad to see more of as he figures more prominently in the movie as it progresses. He is easily one of the most natural actors out there right now. Add to that a perfect soundtrack rife with music from groups as diverse and talented as Simon & Garfunkel, The Shins and Coldplay and you have a movie that is undeniably one of the best of 2004.
Audio Commentary by Zach Braff and Natalie Portman: Braff talks up a storm and enthusiastically discusses all the minor and major details of his film, scene to scene. Portman is also pretty lively and regularly asks questions to Braff about his experience. There are hardly any lulls and lots of cool info being revealed so you’ll definitely get your money’s worth with the first extra from these DVD features…
Audio Commentary by the Filmmakers: Director Zach Braff, director of photography Lawrence Sher, editor Myron Kerstein and production designer Judy Becker are the featured speakers on this second commentary track. More technical stuff being discussed here but it’s nonetheless very interesting and will be greatly appreciated by die-hard fans of the film.
Outtakes and Bloopers: There is nothing here that you’ll bust a gut over but it’s a couple of minutes of harmless mess-ups that’ll have you smiling a few times.
16 Deleted Scenes: These are fun to look through; most of them are pretty short, fluffy scenes and moments that were probably best left on the cutting room floor to keep the runtime reasonable. “First Talk” is a very interesting and intense six-minute scene between Andrew and his father in the bathroom where his mother lost her life. These are all nice additions to the extras…
“Making-of” Featurette (27 minutes): This is ten times better (and much longer) than most of the lame making-of features you’ll find on other films. This feature actually takes you on many of the locations they shot the film at and has many of the filmmakers comment on the film from the actual set. In most features of this kind, you’ll have maybe one or two of the main actors sitting on a chair and talking about how great everyone was but this one is much different in that it really takes you into the production of the movie. Well done!
Soundtrack Promo Spot
Although this might not have the same affect on all age groups, I nevertheless think it’s a movie that should be seen by all; if only for its success in delivering a story that can be equally smart, thought provoking and entertaining. The soundtrack and movie (with its great extras) are both worth buying. Braff couldn’t have hoped for any better with his first effort as a filmmaker and I suspect that the sky’s the limit for him from here on in…