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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Movie Review: Garden State 

Roughly twenty minutes into Garden State, I had begun to question the rave reviews that it has drawn. I get it, I thought. Zach Braff plays Largeman, your typical messed up twenty-something, estranged from his family, who left home behind and escaped to a new world, only to replace emptiness with more emptiness.

Then he meets Natalie Portman's Sam, and the rest... well, the rest turned me around 180 degrees. "Listen to this song," she says, thrusting a pair of headphones his way. "It'll change your life." The opening strains of The Shins' "New Slang" bleed through the headset and an hour later the viewer realizes how prophetic Sam was.

Garden State tells a tale that we've all see before. Boy meets Girl. Boy falls for Girl. Girl completes Boy. Boy falls in love. Girl falls in love. Boy and Girl live happily... ever after? That last part is open for debate, but it certainly not a reach. The beauty of Garden State isn't in its story, though, it's in its characters.

Braff and Portman play off each other beautifully. From a serendipitous meeting to a fairy tale ending, the pair's endearing chemistry captures the butterfly-causing attraction so often found in budding romances. Portman, with her bubbly charm and sweet-yet-not-too-innocent independent side, especially lights up the screen.

Then there's the soundtrack. Have you ever wanted to create a soundtrack of your life? Or least of a part of it? Braff does just that with the film's music, complementing its sense of apprehensive isolation with a mellow mix of acoustic melancholy.

Garden State appealed to me for many of the same reasons that I loved Eternal Sunshine. Both have flawed characters that elicit similar empathetic empotions. They're everyday people, enduring the same problems that we all face, and rooting for them is like rooting for ourselves. If pressed I'd say that Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet did it a little bit better, but come Oscar time, I'm rooting for both.



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