Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) is doped up on anti-depressives, waiting tables to survive in Los Angeles between acting jobs. (You know that joke:"Oh, so you're an Actor? Which restaurant?") Then his mother's death forces him to go home and face his personal demons. When he leaves LA, he leaves his prescription medication behind too. In his home town he meets the gorgeous compulsive liar Sam (Natalie Portman), reignites old friendships, faces his past and learns to feel again.
Who the hell wants to watch a movie full of normal, balanced, happy mentally healthy characters?
Nobody - people like that don't exist, and they're boring. Luckily, everyone in Garden State has fairly serious emotional issue, and their odd ways of dealing with them make for great entertainment.
The strength of this movie lies in the openness to romance. All the characters share a common purpose - their search for something better, no matter if they're gravediggers, cops or actors. It's a movie about wanting something better, and, naf as it sounds, about being a better person too.
Natalie Portman's passionate performance as Sam, who deals with her hard luck through pragmatic humour and tears, is the backbone of the film. Intimate camera work, a pleasantly quirky script and a sometimes breathtaking use of light (the love scene in the pool is particularly gorgeous) means you're so involved with each moment that you barely notice what's essentially a meandering, and rather too lifelike plot.
The best tearjerkers are the ones that raise your awareness of beauty and wonder, and remind you that there is kindness in the world too - there's nothing more likely to crack a cynic than a glimpse of hope.
The best tearjerkers are also the ones that make you laugh too. "Comedy," as Steve Martin so perfectly put it, "is not pretty." It's more often our attempt to deflect the things that traumatise us, give the finger to our fears and desecrate the sacred. Some of the funniest scenes in Garden State are set in graveyards.
Contrasted with modern facetiousness is the kindness that Andrew and Sam show each other. Their generosity to each other is genuinely touching.
The result is a convincing film that's incredibly moving without being too sappy, despite an ending (in an airport) so cliched on the surface that you may wonder why you're not groaning out loud!
Even if by the finale of the movie Andrew Largeman is still struggling to cry, it's unlikely you'll have any trouble. But this is more than a sob-athon. It's actually genuinely inspiring.- Jean Barker
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