The protagonist in the film is Andrew Largeman (Braff), a 26-year-old New Jersey native who goes home for the first time in nine years to attend his mother's funeral. While there, he falls for an idiosyncratic young woman called Sam (Portman). But Andrew is haunted by problems arising from his past, and he must come to terms with them.
"Garden State" isn't a subtle movie, but I found what occasional heavy-handedness there was worked anyway because of the comic-tragic quality of the story. I also was impressed with the cinematography, which used simple, deliberately unrealistic, artificially composed shots of sterile, empty environments that echoed Andrew's sedated psychological state and vacuous life.
Overall, I found "Garden State" to be funny and heartwarming, but I think what gives it some resonance is Braff's ability to show us certain numbing aspects of contemporary American life. I enjoyed "Garden State" a lot, but it seemed to me uneven and insufficiently focused, and its quirkiness sometimes felt forced.
Although "Garden State" begins strong, about three-quarters of the way through, the movie loses a lot of its earnestness, increasingly becoming precious and strained. The film's worst flaw is, to my mind, the feel-good ending, which is more appropriate for a Hollywood movie and does not really fit the charming independent film that, for the most part, "Garden State" is. All in all, "Garden State" is a very promising debut for Zach Braff as a filmmaker, and I think that for most viewers the movie's strong points will outweigh its faults.
The "Garden State" DVD comes with two feature-length audio commentary tracks, 16 deleted scenes with optional commentary, and a 27-minute making-of. On the commentary track that features Zach Braff and Natalie Portman, Braff is the more informative of the two, but given he was the major creative force behind the movie, I didn't find that surprising. Although Portman and Braff seem to have a great time discussing their experience in making the movie, I found the commentary track with Zach Braff, cinematographer Lawrence Sher, editor Myron Kerstein, and production designer Judy Becker to be the more interesting one.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that "The Making of Garden State" included some footage of the movie being made. The deleted scenes were definitely worth watching. In addition to being entertaining in their own right, these scenes shed some light on some of the difficult choices that go into the filmmaking process.
On the next page, I've listed all the DVD's special features.
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