‘Garden State’ impresses with lively characters

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It walks with the big boys, but it talks like an art house indieflick. It’s a movie about feeling and living, without any ofthe two-dimensional, stereotypical characters that populate everyother movie in Hollywood. First-time director Zach Braff also wroteand starred in the movie, which is pretty rare itself these days.It’s an intriguing, insightful film that isn’t quite aromantic comedy, but isn’t quite a straight-forward comedy,either.

Garden State tells the story of Andrew Largeman (Braff),a modestly successful TV actor in Los Angeles. Largeman(“Large” to his friends) returns home to New Jersey forthe first time in nine years to attend his mother’s funeral.He encounters old friends, like Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) who works asa gravedigger by day and parties hard with booze and cocaine bynight, and generally drifts from one place to the next without anyaim. But when he meets Sam (Natalie Portman), a unique, quirkycompulsive liar, he begins to discover a world of feeling that hehasn’t felt in years.

Braff has created an incredible cast of interesting,well-developed characters, and has chosen amazing actors to playthem. Ian Holm turns in a brief but moving role as Gideon Largeman,Large’s father and psychiatrist. The handful of interchangesbetween Large and his father are beautifully uncomfortable, with atangible tension that feels undeniably honest. Holm is a verytalented actor and his handling of Gideon Largeman’scharacter is exemplary.

However, even Holm’s performance is overshadowed by theastonishing performance by Natalie Portman. Portman, whose actingskills have been almost completely obscured by George Lucas’ham-fisted directing in the “Star Wars” prequels, isnothing short of amazing in this movie. She takes the role andmakes it hers, blurring the line between actor and character. Sheis Sam, and she turns in a performance that will almost guaranteeher an Oscar nomination.

With such impressive performances, it’s no wonder thatthis film focuses primarily on characters. Unlike most”Hollywood” films, the character development in”Garden State” is not forced or neglected, but allowedto grow naturally and evolve throughout the entirety of the film.The characters feel like real people, and like real people theygrow and change over time in subtle, quiet ways.

Garden State speaks to a very specific generation, muchlike The Graduate did in 1967. It speaks to an aimless,over-medicated generation of post-students who grew up on cocktailsof anti-depressants, Ritalin, and behavior inhibitors. Children whoweren’t allowed to be children, teenagers who weren’tallowed to be teenagers, adults who had to discover for themselveswhat it means to be an adult. Largeman uncovers a deep sea ofvulnerability when he sheds the safety blanket of medication andbegins feeling again.

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