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:: Garden State

The first feature from writer, director and actor Zach Braff is a quirky but sincere film that transcends its traditional romantic comedy structure.

Braff stars as Andrew Largeman, a 26-year-old washed up actor who’s been zoned on lithium for sixteen years, courtesy of an over-zealous shrink father (Sir Ian Holm). When Andrew returns home for his mother’s funeral, he quits the pills and reunites with school pal Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), a gravedigger who collects Desert Storm trading cards, and meets Sam (Natalie Portman), a fearless, expressive inspiration of a girl.

It’s Andrew’s gradual thawing from his numbed existence into a full and participatory life that’s so beautiful in this film. His interaction with Sam is natural and revelatory, and the humour is both spontaneous and believable. Where Garden State is least successful is in Andrew re-negotiating his relationship with his father, but this sentiment doesn’t overshadow the resonance of the rest of this film.

Garden State is a rare cinematic experience – a commercially successful independent film that’s heart-warming, but not irritating; memorable, but not a guilty pleasure; significant, but about insignificant people, and humorous without being (too) derivative.