Garden State

Garden State is a gritty/lovely surprise of a film written, directed by and starring Zach Braff (Scrubbs).

I should call this series of entries to my movie blog “the vacations series” since I went to see it with my sister last weekend, too. We were to Borders first and when we were checking out (bought a copy of Vanity Fair) we asked the young sales assistant where the theater was in the mall and he asked what we were going to see. When we said Garden State, he said,Awe, that’s so good. I’ve already seen it three times.”

We knew then that the film would be worth it.

Zach Braff plays an artificially numb young man who has been estranged from his family for almost ten years. Because of a tragedy when he was young, his psychiatrist father has him on every tranquilizer known to man. He goes home from LA for his mother’s funeral and meets up with his old pals, two of whom dig graves and zone out at night with every kind of illegal drug known to man. 

Zach has headaches and goes to the doctor after the funeral. There he meets a young lady played by Natalie Portman, who seems to be a compulsive liar. Over four days, these two people make a funny, and touching journey to discover the meaning of their existence.

Zach Braff as Andrew hits all the right notes of young adult angst, only there is nothing artificial about the reality of his quest; Natalie Portman as Sam seems annoying at first but morphs into a character who is on as much of a journey as Andrew.  She’s such a promising actress. Peter Sarsgaard as Andrew’s high school friend Mark “works” off the grid (e.g. illegally) and is a societal fallout but he’s got a hold on one true thing: you cannot take wealth with you. Without realizing it, and hardly by following his own belief, he teaches Zach to live now.

This film deserves more commentary and at least one more viewing. It also deserves some consideration by the award-givers.

Garden State is a film that taps into young America’s search for meaning. At the end when Andrew asks Sam over and over: what do we do now? All I could think was: they’ll find the answer because now, together,they have hope and that life, for its own sake and for love for others, is worth living. The film also questions the relevance of traditional religion – because the characters do not have any connection to the traditional faiths of their families. As a person who is a member of a Catholic community of sisters who tries to build bridges between faith and life, I would suggest that clergy and pastoral ministers look deeply at this film to see what we are missing in our desire to share the joy and meaning of our believing.

Garden State gives me hope that 2004 won’t be an almost entire sweep for  most disappointing films in a long time. 

Don’t be offended by the language; it’s a device. The drug use is troubling, but then, it is a symptom of the emptiness of our time. This isn’t a film that glorifies “bad behavior”; it’s about recognizing the elephant in the living room. Human existence cannot stand a vacuum; we will seek to fill it.

Put Garden State on your list.

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