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Garden State (2004)

Film review: Garden State (2004), written and directed by Zach Braff

Garden State is the sort of film that’s hard to describe, and that’s more “a day in the life” rather than having a plot, as such. It stars Zach Braff (Scrubs), who plays Andrew, a depressed waiter and wannabe actor who’s been on psychotropic drugs since childhood because he accidentally paralysed his mother as a child. He doesn’t really do emotions, largely because of his medication, which his own psychiatrist father (Ian Holm) put him on in a sort of passive-agressive fit of blaming his son for the accident.

One day while visiting the medical centre he meets Sam (Natalie Portman) in the waiting room. Sam is a compulsive liar, which she freely admits, and she lives with her eccentric mum and adoptive brother. Andrew and Sam start hanging out, because they sort of like each other.

Then there’s Andrew’s friend Mark (Peter Saarsgaard), who is a wild child – smoking pot, partying, scamming stores by exploiting their return policies and stealing jewellery from people about to be buried. Charming bloke. The three end up going on some sort of crazy day trip where they all end up finding themselves and their purpose in life, kinda thing.

Oh, and Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) is in it too. As Mark’s cougar mum’s Klingon-speaking boyfriend.

So, yes, it’s all a bit peculiar, but it has its charms. While a depressed J.D. mopes about and then finds Quirky Girl and they both end up hanging out with Jerkwad doesn’t sound like much of a film … it’s not bad. It was a bit slow and ponderous for my liking and the Daddy Issues wasn’t exactly a light subject, but somewhere in here is a decent film. The ending was very positive, although not quite to the same effect as a Richard Curtis film. There was no “and they lived happily ever after” set to a classic Motown song, but y’know, it worked.

Unfortunately, it’s not very memorable, and I’d be struggling to remember what it was about if I only saw the title. (Update 2021: Can confirm.) With the cast list, maybe “oh it’s the one with Zac Braff … uh, and Natalie Portman. Is it the one where she’s a flight attendant and he’s attending a funeral?” No, it isn’t. And I might have googled it to refresh my memory, polite cough.

As a writer and director, not to mention actor, I think Braff has done a great job. There’s clearly a lot more to him than Scrubs, and is someone who has a decidedly deeper side to him. I wonder what else he’ll get up to in the future. Garden State is a good start, even if it’s a confusing rollercoaster of a film. Parts of it are incredibly depressing, others downright quirky, and then there are a few laughs. Peculiar mix, but yes, one that’s certainly better than expected, even if not exactly to my personal taste.

And what’s all this with Sarsgaard nearly always playing douchebags anyway?

3.5 out of 5 epileptic fits.


An easily distracted Swedish introvert residing in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel, when there's not a plague on.

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