Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) is traumatised, and by quite a few things at that – a badly messed-up childhood with emotionally distant parents, his fifteen-year long addiction to prescription drugs, constant cold turkey induced headaches, his mother’s death and an enforced departure from L.A. to spend a week with the lowlifes he grew up with. The list seems endless. To top it all, the poor lad’s only 26. Largeman (‘Large!’ to his mates) seems set for emotional wipe out, until Natalie Portman’s quirky Sam appears. With Sam almost as screwed up as Large, the hope is that they’ll save themselves in trying to save each other, but will four days spent back home in New Jersey with Natalie Portman be enough to make our man leave Hollywood behind? More pertinently, by the time we reach the climax, who really cares?
This disappointment is a shame. The opening is classy and intriguing, the 110 minutes of film is littered with genuine comic gems (from endearing chuckles to outright belly-laughs) and the slacker soundtrack is pretty damn good… and this is where Garden State stumbles most. Plot, character development and meaningful conflict all get swamped in an eternal pursuit of cool. Clumsy slow-mo, heavy-handed scene chopping and unnecessary musical interludes too often deny probably-more-than-decent actors scope for canvass desperately needed to explore their characters. It’s not that anyone’s performance is particularly bad, it’s just that no-one is allowed the space to be good either. As lead actor, director and writer, the obviously talented Braff has been given too much too young. In a film trying desperately hard to ‘define a generation’ Braff has delivered a work worthy only of a Dawson’s Creek episode or three. Fine for a host of Avril Lavigne loving angst-driven teenagers I’m sure, but hardly substantial enough for the big-screen crossover. But there’s still enough on show to keep an eye on Braff in the future.