Zach Braff has been cast in many lights as an actor, most famously as Dr. “J. D.” John Dorian from the TV series Scrubs which debuted in 2001. In his role as JD he was nominated for three Golden Globes and an Emmy award. After earning his fame, he decided to dabble in directing and where better to start then with episodes of the show you’re famous for. He then decided to write, direct, produce and star in his own movie, 2004’s Garden State.
Shot mostly in his home state, Garden State is a generational snapshot that perfectly defines what it is like to be in your mid-twenties. The film opens in a dream sequence where Andrew Largeman (Braff) is on a plane on which everyone is panicking aside from Braff. He wakes up to his phone ringing and his answering machine taking the call. From this call we learn that his mother has passed away and that he has to leave LA to go home for her funeral in New Jersey. Numbly, he goes to work and then flies home to Jersey. From here you meet the group of fractured friends (Peter Sarsgaard and Alex Burns) which Largeman had left behind to go to LA.
As the movie progresses, his character evolves, having been numbed by medications since he was nine years old. Largeman then meets a new woman (Natalie Portman) at the doctors when checking on a condition he has recently been having when off his medications. He views her as a positive new force in his life as the audience follows their budding relationship throughout the movie.
The acting on all levels is superb. Portman, Braff and the rest of the cast shine playing what seems to be themselves rather than characters. Braff plays the medicated numb role as well as the transformed person very well and his chemistry with Portman is pivotal to the movie. Portman’s role is unlike the common love interest; she is quirky and flawed and Portman’s acting plays to these points making her unforgettable. Sarsgaard and Burns are also perfect in their roles of the underachieving friends who have stayed in their town and done little with their lives. The cast work together to form an eccentric definition of the generation of its major fan base.
Braff also did a superb job handpicking the soundtrack to the film. His “mix CD“ of the songs that had an impact on him when writing the screenplay would eventually be certified gold and go on to win him a Grammy award in 2005 for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. From beginning to end, the music of a number of Indie bands fits perfectly to the story and makes the movie that much more memorable. The music was perfect in evoking the emotions at that point in the film which made fit an integral part of the movie.
Garden State is a pillar of achievement in the Indie world, one that has garnered a large cult following amongst a generation. It is a film that is worth greater exposure; if you have not yet seen it, you should find some means to because it provides an in depth look at life and complacency. The story and its development makes you care about the characters and it tells a great tale of maturity. Lastly, it examines the notion of what makes people happy and what keeps people together.