Vantage point

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Review of Garden State

Many TV superstars have made a smooth transition to the big screen. I can think of only one who moved from being sitcom-chocolate-hero to a successful director - Ron Howard. Garden State gives an indication that Scrubs star Zach Braff has the potential to be an even bigger success, at least critically if not commercially. The movie does not have any earth-shattering twists and turns, is not particularly pacy, nor does it have any exceptionally powerful performances. Yet, it has a very earthy and real appeal which showcases Braff's talents. It shows that he has enough acting talent to be seen as someone other than Scrubs' JD. It shows that it is not just comedy that he is good at. And it shows that he is very insightful and imaginative as a writer-director.

The movie, as its name suggests, is set in the state of New Jersey. It starts off, serendipitously or appropriately enough, with a Ganesh Vandana. A cursory google search did not clarify if Braff knows that hindus consider an invocation to Ganesha auspicious to start off anything new, or if it was just a coincidence that he used an alarm clock with that shloka. Andrew Largeman(Braff) is a struggling actor who flies home from LA to NJ for his mother's funeral. He catches up with old friends, avoids his father for a few days, and then meets Sam (Natalie Portman), a bubbly... trifle too bubbly girl with an addiction for lying.

As the movie progresses, we learn more about the troubled pasts of both Andrew and Sam, and see them falling in love. Usually in "going back home" movies like these, we learn that the lead has some ghosts from the pasts, some guilt issues, or something similar which need to be exorcised. In this movie, there is a slightly different touch. Andrew seems to know that these ghosts have no reason to exist and the guilt is unwarranted. But it is someone else's, i.e his father's inability to deal with tragedy that forces him to bear the burden of those ghosts. In that sense, the movie is about a little boy freeing himself from someone else's subconsciously misdirected blame.

There are a few small amusing as well as touching sideplots, like the guy who got rich after inventing silent velcro, the grave-digger, the supermarket employee ex-classmate whom no one ever gives their number because he is into a pyramid scheme, Sam's African college-going "brother" who was "adopted" via Sally Struthers, and now lives with them etc. All of these blend well with the main storyline and result in a movie which goes down very smooth and stays with you for a long time.

For the first 10 minutes of the movie, I wondered... something is missing... what is missing... and then I realised.... I was expecting in a very Pavlovian way, to hear Braff's voice-over a la Scrubs. The current season of Scrubs is going to be its last since Braff wants to concentrate on films full-time. Garden State is proof that it is a natural and welcome progression.

P.S - How could I forget to write about the film's soundtrack, which is currently on my playlist? It is one of the best compilations soundtrack ever, featuring Simon & Garfunkel, Coldplay, Nick Drake and some very good indie performers. Braff won the a "Best Compilation Soundtrack" Grammy for it.