Movies Garden State (R)

Scrubs’ Zach Braff gets all Wes Anderson on us with his sad and wonderful characters who collide on a young man’s trip to his New Jersey hometown for his mother’s funeral in Garden State.

Though, not exactly Wes Anderson because where the creative force behind Bottle Rockets, Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums always put a sweet humor behind his matter-of-fact sadness, first-time movie writer, director and star Braff stays with the sadness. The results? A quiet, charming and yes, very sad, but still occasionally funny characters study.

Andrew Largeman (Braff) is an “actor” in Los Angeles, which means that he’s had a part playing a retarded football player and spends most of his time waiting tables at a Vietnamese restaurant. He seems to float through his life, barely touched by it—a fact that might have something to do with a medicine cabinet full of prescription drugs. He’s in such a near-vegetative state that he doesn’t pick up the phone but merely listens to his answering machine as his father delivers the news that his mother has drowned in the bathtub.

Arriving back in New Jersey for the funeral, Largeman sees two of his friends at the funeral—they are gravediggers in the Jewish cemetery. After a few, “dude, that sucks” about his mom, the boys invite Largeman to the party of a mutual friend who is unbelievably wealthy due to having sold a patent for silent Velcro (the rip without the sound). The boys—men, really, in their late 20s—spend the evening getting high and flirting with girls who appear to be just a bit too young. Regardless of financial standing, it seems, the kids of Largeman’s generation seem aimless.

Having mentioned to his father a bout of painful but short-lived headaches he’s been suffering, Largeman goes to a neurologist and, in the lobby, meets the nosy, talkative Sam (Natalie Portman), who hooks him by playing a The Shins song she promises “will change your life.” They become fast friends and spend the rest of Largemen’s visit together, getting to know each other.

And, folks, that’s it.

They talk. They kick around their small, fairly dead-end-feeling town. They hang out with Largeman’s alternatively charming and appalling friends. They cry some and have small epiphanies. Good, low-key alternamusic plays in the background. We get a lot of amazing shots—Largeman driving his grandfather’s sidecar-having motorcycle; Largeman and Sam burying her pet hamster in her family’s extensive pet cemetery; Largeman’s ecstasy trip, which seems startlingly similar to his lithium-medicated life only happier.

This is one of those movies. The ones that make you laugh at the horrible things and smile unexpectedly. The ones that have music so good (much like Wes Anderson’s movies) you run right out to get the soundtrack.

Garden State is sappy and romantic, but still smart and sort of black in its humor. It’s full of tales of woe, but the people aren’t so woeful that they can’t get drunk and make jokes about their sorry state.

—Amy Diaz


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