Review: Garden State

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"You can never go home again."

Firstâ€"time filmmaker and screenwriter Zach Braff (TV's Scrubs) zeroes in on what it takes to feel again and what it takes to come home once more in Garden State.

Braff stars as Andrew Largeman, a struggling L.A. actor who returns home to New Jersey after the sudden passing of his mother. "Large" seems to float through his old existence as he reconnects with his old friend Mark (Peter Sarsgaard). Large also has a hard time dealing with his psychiatrist father Gideon (Ian Holm).

It isn't until a pleasant twist of fate that Large find a real reason to feel again, when he meets free-spirit Sam (Natalie Portman). Sam seems to shine a light into Large's gloomy world. It is her nature and nurturing take that seems to allow Large to see a new light in his life.

Garden State is a hilarious, quirky comedy and brilliant to its core. It is so textured with zany scenes and multi-dimensional characters that you really have no idea where the characters will end up next. It is in that off-beat tone that it evolves into one of the best comedies I have seen in years.

Braff brings so much to each and every character that we witness their off-putting ways, but for some unknown reason see so much realism in their portrayals.

From Sam's hamster-wielding mother to Large's aunt's funeral serenade to Mark's knight-laying mother, Garden State assembles some of the most interesting and hilarious comedic characters in years.

The performance of Braff as his own creation, Large, is subdued and withdrawn, but that is why this character needs to feel so desperately. Portman's Sam is cute, full of feeling, and a perfect opposite to Large.

I also have to give credit to veteran indie-actor Peter Sarsgaard, who does a brilliant job as Large's struggling friend Mark. His performance brings so many levels to Mark, even if the script doesn't allow the actor to fully explore them.

I also liked the fact that Garden State, in its fresh and unique take, was not afraid to tackle the controversial topic of kids becoming reliant on anti-depressants like lithium. This topic is so interwoven into the film that it is there to enlighten us, but not steer us away from the lighter comedy moments. If anything, it enhances some of them.

The film reminded me a lot of the classic John Cusack comedies from the 1980s like Better Off Dead, A Sure Thing, and obviously director Cameron Crowe's Say Anything. In each of those films, there is an under-lying message that echoes throughout the film, but laughter and craziness allows the audience to absorb the message.

Teenage suicide, a question of beauty, and family secrets were all some of the harsher topics interlaced and woven into those classic comedies. Garden State is definitely a throwback to those comedies and could be heralded as the best of the bunch.

The Academy Awards really need to honor Braff with at least an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay this year. It is an utterly involving and brilliant screenplay.

Garden State is as perfect as a comedy can get. (5 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.

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