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Garden State

Movies | The film speaks with the power of general revelation but doesn't go far enough to be truly profound

Issue: "2004 Election: GOP's encore," Aug. 28, 2004

Garden State, the directorial debut of TV actor Zach Braff (NBC's Scrubs) has received a lot of positive critical attention, starting with an enthusiastic response at Sundance in January. Mr. Braff, who also wrote and stars in the film, crafted a very personal story about an actor who returns home to New Jersey after the death of his mother. The film reflects a searching heart, disillusioned with the world, but is weighed down by heavy profanity, drug use, and sexual references-and an ultimately fruitless search for meaning.

Garden State (rated R) is a film that speaks with the power of general revelation (it reflects truths about the world as God created it) but doesn't go far enough to be truly profound. That, combined with strong bad language, makes this intriguing and inventive film tough to recommend.

Mr. Braff plays Andrew Largeman, a modestly successful Hollywood actor who has left family and friends in New Jersey far behind. But childhood disappointments still very much shape Andrew's life in L.A., and his mother's death causes him to revisit some of the things that define his character.

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For Andrew, this involves a peeling-away of layers built up to protect him from reality-starting with the huge volume of psychosomatic medicines he's been consuming since childhood. Andrew slowly reconnects with old friends and acquaintances, shuffles around reconciliation with his psychiatrist father (Ian Holm), and strikes up a friendship with the quirky Sam (Natalie Portman), all of which causes him to reevaluate his life.

There's some truth here, as the film identifies the disastrous tools that damaged people use to insulate themselves from the world. The sadness of the film, though, is in the emptiness of its hope-that once that inner person is reached, somehow we'll be happy with what we find.

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