Garden's State

I took part of the afternoon off today to see some flawed, but very good, entertainment: Garden State, directed by Scrubs lead funny-guy Zach Braff.
Mr. Braff has a very good ear for dialogue, which is the usually the first thing I look for (well, listen for) in a new writer/director. He understands how people communicate with eyebrows and raised lips and teeth as well and, in that respect, his filming of Natalie Portman was so very right on. Ms. Portman, I’ve always held, is every 27 year-old’s dream of a girlfriend and Mr. Braff, well, shagged her. I mean snagged.
The film, with a beautiful Flash website, falls apart in a number of crucial places like the middle and the end. This is mostly because Mr. Braff created a visually stunning but derivative beginning that sets up the rest of the drama and fails on its own terms. A few characters are also misplaced (or miscast): teh father, played by Ian Holm, is a cipher. Method Man, playing a bell hop, is too much himself and not, well, a bell hop. But Peter Sarsgaard almost steals the show as a burn-out grave robber; he reminded me so much of a young John Malkovich in Dangerous Liasons that he may have been playing an homage.
Mr. Braff puts the lie to the Hitchcockian “actors are sheep” and the film, a bit like New Jersey suburban filmic traumas American Beauty or Boiler Room or, perhaps most appropriately Happiness, tries too hard. But there was a tremendously heartfelt sadness trying to emanate from the film and I appreciated being wrapped up in it.
P.S. How could I forget? The film has a very good soundtrack that features faves The Shins, Nick Drake, Iron and Wine and Remy Zero. Perhaps the most beautiful image of the film is when Ms. Portman smiles gorgeously at Mr. Braff as she introduces him to The Shins’ “New Slang,” which is what I would have listened to had Natalie Portman introduced me to The Shins.

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