Garden State marks Zach Braff's feature film directorial debut, based upon a story written by him, and starring himself, Natalie Portman and Peter Sarsgaard. His later work The Last Kiss might have struck a chord in me with his characters looking at life entering the 30s, while this one's more about a younger man seeking some meaning and direction in his aimless life.
Looking at it, Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown might have some similarities, with the lead character leaving the city to return to the town he grew up in, when a death in the family occurs. Here, Braff's Andrew Largeman is a struggling actor in LA, going home upon hearing news of his mother's death. Back in town, and hooking up with old acquaintances like Mark (Sarsgaard), he planned to stay for only 4 days, but found time hard to pass by especially when much of it involves drugs and booze, until he met the girl who would change his life forever - Samantha (Portman).
Portman really lights up the screen with her effervescent performance as a serial liar. Meeting Andrew in a psychiatric clinic, their banter in that scene is to die for (complete with humping dog), as is their banter through the first half of the movie, bringing to mind the irrelevance of the conversational pieces ala Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise, but little of that sexual overtones. Like Kirsten Dunst's character in Elizabethtown, she provides reason and is the beacon of light at the end of the lead male character's fuzzy tunnel. Smart, sassy, everything a guy would want in a girl really.
There are plenty of quirky moments in the movie that all but makes the movie seem like little short skits put together, but that's what makes the movie appealing, in that it doesn't stick to the usual narrative formula. It clearly stems from Braff's vision of translating most of his life's experiences into the movie. And the build up to the finale (see, I still can't stop seeing those similarities) involves a road trip of sorts, and though it doesn't cross state lines, they do make some visits, and have that feel good end to it all.
I'll always like any movie so long as it has a scene which touches me, for reasons of my own, and here, Garden State has one which endeared itself to me. It's that scene which involves a hug and the notion of finding a safe-house, a home. I've been there and I know that feeling, and here, it gets translated perfectly. Coupled with an excellent soundtrack throughout the story, this is one heartwarming tale that doesn't deserve to be missed.
Life's always complex, but it all boils down to how you want to deal with it. There are no clear answers, but lucky is the person if you have someone to walk those winding road ahead with.
The Code 3 DVD by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment contains just 2 special features. Visual transfer is decent in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and while 5.1 audio (in English only) might seem an overkill for a movie like this, it allows for the enjoyment of the great songs in its soundtrack. Scene selection is in 24 chapters, and subtitles are available in English, Chinese, Cantonese, Korean and Thai.
The first special feature included is the making of, which runs 27:30. Nothing much besides the usual stuff you'd come to expect, containing interviews with cast and crew, recounting certain fond memories and incidents which happen on set. I thought a commentary track by Braff would be most welcome, unfortunately it's not included in this Code 3 disc.
The other special feature is a collection of outtakes and bloopers running 3:20, but it's lumped together and doesn't allow for any specific scene to be watched standalone.