Zach Braff proves that home isn’t always where the heart is.
For his debut film Garden State, the writer-director-actor chose to address problems that arise when you try to establish a home of your own, but still don’t know where your heart is.
The film focuses on Andrew Largeman (Braff), a small-time actor living in Los Angeles. Largeman returns to the cozy New Jersey neighborhood in which he grew up for the first time in nine years to attend the funeral of his mother. In the days following the funeral, Largeman falls back in with old friends Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), a gravedigger struggling with his own life’s prospects, and Jesse (Armando Riesco), a millionaire in his early 20s thanks to his invention of “silent velcro.” Back at home, Largeman realizes how distant he is from his old life.
In a stroke of luck, Largeman also meets a new face in his old town, an infectiously-outgoing compulsive liar named Sam, played by the always-gorgeous Natalie Portman. The pair become fast friends and develop a bond that becomes Largeman’s saving grace.
Largeman begins to make a series of honest, personal evaluations throughout the movie, including coming to grips with the tumultuous relationship he has had with his parents since childhood.
Garden State connects with an entire generation of people in their early-to-mid 20s who are struggling to come to terms with personal identity, careers and finding a place of your own in the world. Comparisons can be drawn between two films that were released more than a decade ago during the peak of “Gen-X:” Slacker and Clerks, two films that, like Garden State, balanced humor with the serious issues of growing into a successful adult, and what it means with each new generation.
Garden State plays the balance a little more evenly than its early-90s counterparts. It has those laugh-until-you-cry moments, like a breakfast table scene involving Mark’s mother and her boyfriend, a knight at a Medieval Times restaurant. There are fight-back-the-tears-until-you-cry moments like a scene where Largeman has a revelation about his mother, showing exactly what set-off their uneasy relationship.
While Garden State is a movie everyone should see, it will ring especially true for college kids. In both the literal and the metaphorical sense, Garden State is closer to where you are than you even realize.
Slade Bracey can be reached at email@example.com.