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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Garden State: Special Edition
Garden State: Special Edition
Fox // R // December 28, 2004
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted December 7, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

One of the best new actors on television would have to be Zach Braff. The lead in NBC's popular hospital comedy, "Scrubs", Braff manages to offer skillful physical comedy while also delivering the show's jokes with expert timing. The show also has moments where it does a superb job sliding into more emotional territory, and Braff has the range to cover those moments, as well.

Given the show's success, there was a lot of buzz riding around Braff's feature debut, "Garden State" - enough that two studios (Miramax and Fox Searchlight) ended up sharing the film. The film's core isn't anything too unexpected, but Braff's film does manage to go at the plot an interesting and often fresh manner. Writer/director Braff also stars as Andrew Largeman, an aspiring actor (whose only notable credit is as a "retarded quarterback") who's ended up spending most of his time as a waiter.

Largeman lives in a small apartment with no real color to be found, appearing to largely be sleepwalking through life. He takes enough prescription drugs - prescribed by his shrink father, Gideon (Ian Holm) - to keep him pretty much numb to the events of the world going on around him. When a call informs him that his mother has passed, Largeman decides to head home for a while and to take himself off the medications that have kept him covered up for so long.

While a reconnection with his father isn't in the cards at first, Largeman finds some romance in Sam (Natalie Portman), a epileptic who lies quite a bit. He also finds friends, including Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), a burnout who nevertheless still tries his best to keep things going. Overall, it's another story about a guy who tries to come home to reconnect and realize what his life's about, but Braff invests enough in the characters and adds nice doses of comedy to the darkness every so often.

Still, there's issues with the film. While I liked "Garden State" more the second viewing, I still feel like the film does not have much in the way of forward momentum, especially at the beginning. Braff's character is supposed to be numb, but that doesn't mean the film has to feel that way, too - a little more urgency and energy in the picture would have gone a long way. Quirkiness goes a long way too, and sometimes, "Garden State" piles it on a bit too thick.

There are certainly positives about the film, though. Braff offers up a unique and interesting visual style, allowing the film to look a bit more expensive and slick than its fairly small budget would suggest. The performances are good, as well: Braff doesn't slide between comedy and drama as smoothly as he does on "Scrubs", but it's still a good effort. Portman's portrayal tries a bit too much at times, but it's nice to see the actress in something other than the latest "Star Wars" effort. She also has very nice chemistry with co-star Braff. Peter Sarsgaard, who deserves to be far more of a star than he is, is excellent as Largeman's old friend. Ian Holm and Jean Smart are also good in small roles.

Overall, "Garden State" isn't without some flaws, but it's a fine debut from Braff that shows definite potential for his next effort.


VIDEO: "Garden State" is presented by Fox in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is largely really good, although there are some minor concerns here-and-there. Sharpness and detail are perfectly fine - the picture never appeared razor sharp, but still looked nicely defined and crisp. Some shots looked softer than the rest, but overall, the picture portrayed the look of the film that I remember from my theatrical viewing pretty well.

The picture did display some concerns, but none that caused real distraction. Some minor compression artifacts were visible in some of the interior and low-light sequences, while a little bit of edge enhancement was occasionally noticed. Surprisingly, the print used did show some minor specks at times. Slight grain shows up, although that is likely an intentional element.

The film's largely naturalistic color palette looked pretty good throughout the film, save for some warmer colors that looked just a bit smeary. Overall, the presentation has a few issues, but overall, this was an enjoyable effort.

SOUND: "Garden State" is presented by Fox in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film is largely dialogue-driven, so surrounds really are not involved aside from a couple of scenes. Dialogue remained crisp, clear and natural sounding, while the musical selections sounded rich and full. Not much activity, but neither are there really many opportunities for complex sound work here, either.

EXTRAS: Two audio commentaries are included: the first is from writer/director/actor Zach Braff and actress Natalie Portman, who sit together for this full-length track. The commentary is a really fine effort, as both provide an entertaining and informative track. Both provide a lot of stories from the set, such as the one early on where Braff discusses the results of trying to manually stop traffic on a highway to film a scene. While Braff does most of the talking, Portman does contribute, offering up some thoughtful questions and bouncing some thoughts about the film off Braff. We learn more about Braff's experiences as a first-time director, casting, visual style, continuity issues and working with the actors. The other commentary is from Braff, along with cinematographer Lawrence Sher, editor Myron Kerstein and production designer Judy Becker. It's also a very good commentary, providing a lot of insight about the more technical aspects of the production, while still having a great deal of fun.

Sixteen deleted scenes are presented, with optional commentary from Braff, along with cinematographer Lawrence Sher, editor Myron Kerstein and production designer Judy Becker. The scenes are sometimes interesting and entertaining, but I agree that these scenes would have made the pace suffer.

Aside from the commentaries, we also get a series of very funny bloopers, a fairly lengthy "making of" that offers a lot of terrific behind-the-scenes footage and solid interviews, and a soundtrack promo.

Final Thoughts: While I didn't like "Garden State" as much as some (it's currently ranked in the top 250 films on the Internet Movie Database - imdb.com), I still found it to be an enjoyable debut from Braff, with fine performances and a mostly involving take on a familiar tale. Fox's DVD edition offers fine audio/video quality, along with a few solid supplements. Recommended.

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