“If you can’t laugh at yourself, life is going to seem a whole lot longer than you’d like.” – Sam, Garden State (2004).
Right in the middle of making Scrubs (2001 – 2010), Zach Braff branched out into the world of film. Over ten years ago now, his first feature film, Garden State released. A coming of age film that tackled death, love and all sorts of philosophical questions. Not only does it star Zach Braff, but it was also written and directed by him, with reference to his own life throughout. I always like when a director directs, writes and stars in their work, so that explains why I liked Garden State so much.
The film follows Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) a 26 year old actor who returns to his hometown after his mother passes away. He returns to his hometown and also the daily problems he used to face. An overbearing father, Gideon (Ian Holm) is the least of his troubles. He works his way back into his friends and meets Sam (Natalie Portman), and from there the film goes leaps and bounds to deal with it’s hard hitting messages. Also featuring in this film are Jim Parsons, Peter Sarsgaard and Method Man.
Braff has always amazed me as a director, his style with film is honestly one of my favourites. So far every film I’ve watched from him has been exceptional at the very least. Going in Style (2017) was proof that he could hang with the blockbuster hitters and Wish I Was Here (2014) was possibly my favourite film of that year. He’s also a fantastic actor as he proves throughout this film. Given that he’s the director and writer also, he knew exactly how to play and convey characters in every scene. I thought his acting brought together a very strange character that was an absolute blast.
Andrew Largeman is depressed, that much is made clear. But when he returns to his hometown he leaves behind the medication and worry of his regular life. We get to see his life shape and conform to his new found freedom. The relationships throughout were given enough room to grow and so they did. I was fairly adamant that I would enjoy Braff’s performance throughout this film. Obviously I was not disappointed. He plays the role exceptionally well. The on screen chemistry he has with both Natalie Portman and Ian Holm is commendable and really adds to the film.
The supporting cast as a whole is pretty good. Ian Holm plays his role very well in this film for the few brief scenes he has. It was genuinely surprising to see him in this film given that he’s been cropping up in a few of the films I’ve been watching recently. More recently he’s shown his face in both Alien (1979) and Lord of War (2005). As I stated briefly in my last paragraph, he has some obvious chemistry with Braff and it adds to the tone of the film well. He’s almost emotionless and portrays that with an excellent effect. It gives the film a sort of balance in the sense that everything else is so soppy.
The musical score for the film is possibly one of my favourites. It has a lot of songs in it from bands like Coldplay, Simon and Garfunkel and The Shins. Overall it’s a pretty good soundtrack and probably one of the better ones out there for Zach Braff films. Actually when you take into account his other soundtracks, Garden State pretty much is the best Braff made soundtrack. There are a few omissions if you want to buy a hard copy of the soundtrack, so Spotify may be the best place to go. Yes, I am recommending the soundtrack of this film because it’s genuinely amazing.
The overall cinematography of the film is brilliant as well. There are a number of scenes that were truly amazing to see. Most prominent for me is the scene where the party surrounding Braff moves at such a tense speed while Braff doesn’t move. Scenes in such an artistic manner are not few and far between for this film. If anything they’re quite common throughout. Not to the point where they become annoyingly common though, they always add something extra to the film. Other scenes such as this include Braff’s all white apartment featured briefly at the start of the film.
I’m still not sure what the piece at the start of the film actually meant. The scenes where he’s in the plane and it’s crashing don’t make a whole lot of sense to me. As an artistic piece Garden State, does push for quite a few amazing looking scenes. Some of which such as the aforementioned plane scene, do not add to the film for me personally. The scenes at the funeral were genuinely morbid because of how they were shot, and it amazes me that they had so much impact.
Overall, Garden State is a lovely and upbeat film. Ironically surrounding itself in the theme of death, it creates a nice and fitting story about life, love and experience. Don’t get me wrong though the plot and overall story does fall into a few cliches along the way. There’s nothing wrong with that though, cliches are to be expected in romance films. I’m as surprised as you that I enjoyed a film about romance. It’s certainly not my genre of choice, however is subverted in an enjoyable enough way.
A brilliant performance from Zach Braff and Natalie Portman is probably what makes this film stand out amongst the rest. As a whole you can definitely see why Garden State is considered one of the best films of all. It’s one of those films you need to see before you reach adulthood, luckily I had a few months before that horror happens. Essentially this film is built on a great soundtrack and some fantastic performances. A bit like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) but without the budget or CGI. Braff’s big directorial film is a hit, and it’s obvious as to why.