August 30, 2004

Garden State

Last night we went to see Garden State, the new movie by Zach Braff of Scrubs fame. In spite of the fact that I'm not in the demographic to whom this movie is addressed, I was interested in seeing it for a number of reasons -- it came highly recommended by someone whose taste in films I occasionally trust, it's gotten some good buzz, and I really like Braff's work in Scrubs, an underappreciated show which I've been watching since its beginning. He works overtime here, writing and directing as well as starring in this very nice little film.

Braff plays Andrew Largeman, a young man returning to his childhood home, from which he has been long absent, for his mother's funeral. It's clear from the outset of the story that Andrew is at a disconnect not only from his immediate family, but from life as well. As the tale unfolds, we learn that he has lived most of his life under the influence of prescription medications of the heavy-duty variety -- he is sleepwalking through his life. The fact that this existence was thrust upon him by his psychiatrist father has made it all the more difficult for him to deal with an accident he precipitated as a child which resulted in his mother's paralysis. The cast, which includes Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard and Ian Holm, is fine throughout. I was particularly touched by Portman's portrayal of Sam, the vulnerable young woman whose presence helps Andrew wake up from his nearly lifelong emotional sleep. Braff does a nice job of moving Andrew through his various stages of self-awareness, starting with his nearly catatonic reaction to the news of his mother's death to his realization that life happens in the present, and that one must be present in order to fully experience it. The moral of the story (at least to me) is that life is messy, but in order to be fully alive, we have to embrace the pain and the confusion along with the good stuff. I can't argue with that. It's a message that transcends generational boundaries.


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