Garden State

Unlike the stuff I see at the cinema, the DVDs I write about are picked totally arbitrarily.

I don’t understand my peers’ attraction to Garden State. Don’t get me wrong, I like it; it’s just that I had always assumed I held the monopoly on depressed, directionless people with emotional numbness that they are desperate to be rid of regardless of the pain that it inflicts upon them.

Andrew “Large” Largeman (Zach Braff) receives a call from his father to say that his mother has died. Large makes his way back to New Jersey for the first time in nine years. He reconnects with his old friend, Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), and meets a new one: Sam (Natalie Portman), a girl who can’t stop with the talking.

I’ve had problems in recent times with emotionless protagonists, but Braff’s Large is not such a problematic character; he doesn’t want to be as he is and he tries to affect a change. By meeting Sam, Large sets into motion one of those only-in-the-movies instant love scenarios. Mark, by contrast, simply seems as if he’s along for the ride.

The thing about Large is that, while his circumstances are fairly specific, he’s far from alone. He goes to a party – one of those which either only exist in America and American movies, or that I simply don’t get invited to – and everyone is “medicating” themselves: on one side, people are smoking a bong, on the other they’re doing pills and snorting cocaine. This situation is an escape from reality, but reality is not the same for them as it is for Large.
At 26, maybe he should be feeling something. At 26, maybe these people should have outgrown these sorts of parties. Youth, who are older than me, today: I just don’t know.

While Garden State is a movie with which I thought I could identify, it’s not without its problems. Braff’s script has perpetuated one of the greatest evils plaguing the youth of today: “random”. Generally this word is used in this script in the most appropriate fashion, but it is used too often.
I don’t know if this is a phenomenon unique to Australia, but random now means nothing. Anything even slightly abnormal came to be labelled “random”. In our educational institutions, students are plagued by this as their favourite adjective. The one time that I used it – I believe in a self-introduction – it was all I could do not to jump out of the window and disappear forever.
If you have done this, Zach Braff – and you haven’t, because I heard strangers who turn up at parties called “randoms” a good year before this movie was released – then you’ve got a lot to answer for.

It’s also strange to hear Zach Braff swearing all over the shop, because he comes from Teevee Land, where people can say essentially anything except four letter words. This is not much of a problem in the scheme of the movie but is worth noting nonetheless.

The fact that Garden State doesn’t try to offer any answers for its characters’ problems, save to say that they must be confronted, is perhaps its greatest strength. Braff has not taken an easy way out and has created a much more satisfying movie than one with a conclusion more trite may have offered (this one is too “chick flick” for some, but it’s not really a compromise).

At times it feels like a film’s film, as Braff appears to have subjected his colour timer to a series of strange filtration tests. Certainly it’s always interesting to watch, even beyond the common image of Large in a wallpaper shirt. I can understand perfectly why I like it, even with its weird detours along the lines of “Everyone who just saw titties, put your hand up” and especially the quest of Sam’s adoptive brother to discover who “pissed on [his] GameCube”.

It’s not a movie that I can recommend to everyone, because I no longer understand the zeitgeist. It’s a very specific film, and sometimes the speeches given are too pseudo profound, but maybe it’ll speak to something in you, too.

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