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Garden State
U.S.A. 2004

Opening 26 May 2005

Directed by: Zach Braff
Writing credits: Zach Braff
Principal actors: Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Ian Holm, Jean Smart

Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) leaves his self-imposed exile as waiter and small-time actor in Los Angeles to fly to New Jersey (known as the Garden State) for his mother’s funeral. At home he faces ghosts from the past including old high school classmates and his distant father (Ian Holm). He visits a psychiatrist to renew a prescription only to learn that his medicine was never necessary. This is just the beginning of small discoveries about himself which lead to signs of a more optimistic future. Before this happens, we meet the odd characters in the town such as former classmate Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) who collects Desert Storm trading cards and digs graves at the Jewish cemetery; his main income is the sale of jewellery stolen from the corpses. Another classmate, newly rich from the sale of his invention: silent Velcro, lives in an empty mansion. The class troublemaker has turned policeman and tries to arrest Andrew on his vintage motorbike. In the doctor’s office Andrew meets Samantha (Natalie Portman, who finally has a role in which she proves that she can act). She recognizes him as the “retarded” person in a TV series. They fall in love over the small graves in the family pet graveyard while burying Jelly, the hamster. Sam says, “I can’t believe you aren’t really retarded.” Andrew says that his mother’s paralyzing accident was due to his bad luck “with a piece of plastic.” Sam believes in the uniqueness of the moment, such as standing above a gulch near the ark of a man who is the “guardian of the infinite abyss.” In the end, 26-year-old Andrew realizes that “the house you grew up in isn’t your home any more.”

Zach Braff (writer, director and lead actor) tells the story with such humor that he is being compared to Dustin Hoffmann and the film is being compared to coming-of-age movies like The Graduate. Perhaps he looks a bit like Hoffmann, and there is a swimming pool scene, but his film needs no comparison. It is wonderful on its own. No matter whether you agree with the ending or not (sufficient for young romantics, but old cynics like me would prefer the second option), the rest of the film is so delightfully full of familiar people and throw-away quips, you want to see it again or, even better, visit your own hometown to discover long-forgotten weirdos as well as yourself. (Becky Tan)

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