Visuals and boredom mark Braff's big-screen debut
The story at play is nothing tremendously original, but then, American Beauty owed much to Nabakov in many ways. Andrew Largeman (Braff) is an actor of no exceeding note, becoming best known for his turn as a retarded quarterback (a career zenith that is mentioned early and often.) When his mother dies, he returns home to his titular state, unhappy and kept comfortably numb with a cocktail of drugs prescribed by his psychiatrist father. "Large"'s world is one of disconnection, where he just exists mainly, working as a waiter, and sleepwalking through life.
Returning home, without his medication, after being away from New Jersey for nine years, he finds the same world he left, his friends stuck in the rut he ran away from. Through various editing and camera tricks, the movie puts us in Large's world, allowing us to understand how he's feeling, as he attempts to live life without the pills that have kept him going since he was 10. His friends, on the other hand, are going in the opposite direction, doing coke and X, trying to temporarily escape the life Large left behind. Though Trainspotting did cinematic drug use to a more effective level, this movie makes the experience more personal. There's a reason for Large's medicated state that explains a lot about his family.
While this is Braff's movie to shine in, Natalie Portman stays with him step for step, playing a pathological liar named Sam. A ball of energy without the traditional behavioral limits people place upon themselves, she becomes the impetus for his new life. Her unique homelife and caring nature are counters to Large's cold, emotionless background, shown through a world filled with more color than Large's stark, lifeless existence. For all her troubles and faults, and there are several, her life is better than anyone's in the film. Plus, she's simply adorable, a characteristic that's key to being able to put up with her perky/quirky personality.
Braff's directorial/writing debut is, in many ways, similar to Hard Eight, Paul Thomas Anderson's first major film, in that both films seem simply too good, too polished to have been made by a first-timer. There are subtle, beautiful moments that display a tremendous amount of artistry and comedy that's better than 90% of today's films. One particular scene delivers a laugh simply through a written word and a look. While the film can find itself slipping into seriousness occasionally, especially as the loose plot comes to a climax, for the most part, Garden State is a pretty picture about redemption, what life can mean and the ridiculousness of it all.
The two commentaries are complemented well by a 27-minute full-screen making-of featurette, titled "The Making of Garden State." A slickly produced look behind-the-scenes, it covers most of the aspects of making a movie, speaking to plenty of the cast and crew to get a good feel of what it was like working on Garden State, including craft services. A low-budget independent film is much different than a big studio picture, and this shows exactly why that is.
16 deleted scenes, in workprint quality, can be played one at a time or in one big group, with or without commentary by Braff, Sher, Kerstein and Becker. It would be rather hard to argue against these scenes getting cut out, though some subplots and jokes wouldn't have hurt the film. Because of the short nature of these scenes, the commentaries don't say much. The same could be said for the three minutes of outtakes/bloopers, though they are occasionally cute. Also included is the relatively useless Soundtrack Promo Spot, plugging for the album.
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