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    Garden State

    Leaving Club Med

    A lost twenty-something's first week off of his anti-depressants is the catalyst for "Garden State," the kind of smart, wryly funny and moving story of self-discovery that comes once in a generation.


    Every generation needs a movie like this one. The Baby Boom generation (the word "plastics" comes to mind). The Me Generation (the words "Night" and "Fever" come to mind). Generation X (the phrase "Generation X" comes to mind). Then came Generation Y, and now ... well ... what shall we call today's 20-somethings just discovering anomie for the first time? Maybe "The Medicated Generation." Generation Med.

    Written and directed by: Zach Braff.
    Cast: Zach Braff, Ian Holm, Peter Sarsgaard, Alex Burns, Jackie Hoffman, Michael Weston, Natalie Portman, Ron Leibman.
    Cinematography: Lawrence Sher.
    Edited by: Myron Kerstein.

    Related links: Official site
    "Garden State" is the story of one twenty-something young man coming home after nine years away, coming down off the antidepressants he's taken since childhood, and coming to grips with the world outside the fog that is his life.

    Andrew (aka Largeman, aka "Large") makes a reluctant trip back to home-state New Jersey for his mother's funeral. In some ways, it's like he never left at age 16.

    "Holy shit!" shouts Mark, one of the cemetery gravediggers, upon seeing his old high school classmate. "What are you doing here?"

    "Well ... that's my mom," says Large, pointing at the nearby casket.

    Garden State  
    "Oh fuck!" says Mark.

    "Fuck!" says his partner Dave.

    And it's about that simple — before long, Large is back in his friends' parents' basements drinking beer, doing ecstasy and playing spin the bottle with precocious high school girls. Living his own spartan, self-supported existence on the opposite coast, Large has been spared this endless-adolescence lifestyle, and even now he sits dazedly in its midst as the party swirls around him. This life is no longer his life, but he hasn't replaced it with a different one he could give a name to. Perhaps he feels a little nagging guilt at not properly mourning his mother or comforting his father (Ian Holm), but the fog of that grief has only slightly thickened the fog in which he already lives his aimless life.

    Thanks to one fateful mistake — he's left his lithium back in California — he's on an involuntary tour of unmedicated reality. And thanks to the guidance of a few better-grounded friends, including new romantic interest Samantha (played by "Star Wars" royalty Natalie Portman in such a way that you never quite stop thinking, "Oh, that's Natalie Portman"), he's about to take his first couple steps toward figuring out what adult life really is and how to start living it.

    Just looking at the movie trailer (which can be seen at gives you a sense of the film's spectacular sense of visual drama and even irony, without including a single word of dialogue to suggest what it's about or whether it's any good. It's more than good. Director Zach Braff's ever-creative eye is matched by writer Zach Braff's equally intelligent script, all brought to life with a skilled performance by ... who is that? ... oh, yes, it's lead actor Zach Braff. The first-time filmmaker, previously known from TV's "Scrubs" and not well known from the 2000 film "Getting to Know You," has done pretty much everything you could do to make a great movie short of popping the popcorn.

      Garden State
    Even leaving aside the masterful use of camera angles and effects to highlight our hero's social detachment; even discounting a sense of humor that ranges from broad and jokey to subtle and knowing; even if we choose not to notice how even the loosest plot threads are woven back in in surprising ways; still, this is a movie smart enough to define post-adolescent alienation for a generation. It's not the first film to dramatize or satirize the moment in life when twenty-somethings, approaching the end of their freshness date, discover that after plodding through college and faithfully following all the rules, their reward is a lifeless, dead-end existence at the bottom of the ladder. From "The Graduate" to "Office Space," movies have been challenging the bill of goods that professional-class parents have offered their children, and the best of these films do it with originality, cutting sarcasm and, just maybe, heart. "Garden State" is one of the best.

    And strangely, it ends without cynicism or anger. Large is on a reverse commute, you might say. Unlike a Benjamin Braddock, he hasn't ridden false promises into a brick wall; on the contrary, he's lived a life of dimmed expectations and is only now seeking out the light. "A lot of crazy antidepressant philosophy" went into the film, a college-age viewer told me approvingly on the way out of the theater. "Garden State" provides no instant answers, only a possible path through the haze, a first flash of clarity.

    AUGUST 1, 2004

    Reader comments on Garden State:

  • shallow critique of psychiatry   from lmw, Aug 28, 2004
  • Re: shallow critique of psychiatry   from whatever, Aug 29, 2004
  • Re: shallow critique of psychiatry   from Dave, Sep 18, 2004
  • Re: shallow critique of psychiatry   from LJM, Jan 8, 2005
  • Re: shallow critique of psychiatry   from sharliell, Oct 30, 2006
  • Re: shallow critique of psychiatry   from MLE, Apr 17, 2005
  • Re: shallow critique of psychiatry   from camryn, May 5, 2005
  • Re: shallow critique of psychiatry   from stoic, Oct 25, 2005
  • SEE THIS MOVIE   from Katy, Aug 29, 2004
  • love   from anna, Jan 16, 2005
  • Genius.   from Christina, Jan 28, 2005
  • Re: Genius.   from Jorge, Jan 29, 2005
  • how great the movie Garden State was   from kayla cobb, Feb 16, 2005
  • FLIPPING AWESOME!!   from myka, Feb 23, 2005
  • after seeing this movie...   from Mary, Apr 7, 2005
  • [no subject]   from art-ery, Nov 27, 2005

  • Post a comment on "Garden State"