Monday 13 December 2004

Garden State (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

The first feature film written, directed and starring Zach Braff - he from Scrubs, the quirky comedy TV series about junior doctors. Talented guy. Not sure if he wrote all the script. Maybe he did, but a few moments are slightly off-key - carrying the faint stench of a partial ghost-re-write, as if someone has been smoking in your room while you were out - such as his epiphanic screaming into the abyss in the rain; or the ending: at the crucial pause, at the final change of points before the station at the end of the line, the Fat Controller pulls the same old boring lever and the train idles into the same old boring platform that it always does; some of us were perhaps waiting optimistically at a different platform - just in know?

On the whole, though, a very impressive effort. The dynamic between the two leads, Braff and Natalie Portman, is very similar to the courting couple of Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Carrey, however, is slightly more lovable than Braff; as Portman just takes it by a cute nose over Winslet. The courting moments are particularly endearing, without being slushy. Braff has a way of catching the butterfly emotion of that delicious insecurity when you think you know that your innamorata is feeling just as good about things as you are, but neither of you comes full out and says it. There are pleasingly few kisses and they come late in the general Hollywood scheme of things. (Braff's character, Andrew Largeman - perhaps a play on his large Jewish schnozzle - has actually come back East to New Jersey from L.A., where his only acting break to date has been his portrayal of a retarded quarterback.)

There's some delightful Scrubs-style quirky humour, such as the opening sequence when Braff sits placidly serene, doped up on lithium, whilst the rest of the aircraft cabin panics in a crash dive. He's like the calm faces on the safety cards in the seat pocket in front of you, which Brad Pitt's character in Fight Club points out are actually high on oxygen; compared to the panicked faces which the Fight Club dudes switch them over with.

It plays with comedy and tragedy like the latest Woody Allen movie, Melinda and Melinda: the general premise of the script could sound like a depressing Bergman family psycho-drama. Think more along the lines of the weirdness of Charlie Kaufman and Donnie Darko, the visuals of Amelie and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with the dialogue of Richard Linklater and the perceptive wit of a stand-up comic - all of this without feeling derivative.

The teaser trailer is not a let-down and is a good aperitif to what is to come. And I love the thought that has gone into lines such as, "You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn't really your home anymore? That idea of 'home' is gone. Maybe that's all family really is: a group of people that miss the same imaginary place."

Nugget: hot indie yin. I want seconds. I just hope Braff hasn't used up all his stuff.

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