Directed by Zach Braff, starring Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Ian Holm, Peter Sarsgaard, Alex Burns, Armando Riesco and Amy Ferguson.
If ever a word has been brutalised from overuse and insincerity, it's 'nice'. Indeed in many ways the word is now seen as something of an insult, with the adjective summoning accompanying notions of pity and sarcasm. And that's a shame, because 'nice', in its purest definition, is the perfect word to sum up certain films. 'Garden State' is a prime example.
The directorial debut of Zach Braff, best known from his role in TV's 'Scrubs', 'Garden State' is what 'Lost in Translation' wanted to be: moving, charming and memorable. Braff, who also wrote the script, plays Andrew 'Large' Largeman, a struggling actor in LA who journeys home to New Jersey for his mother's funeral after a hiatus of nine years. Devoid of any sense of belonging, Large is the poster boy for Generation X; he's confused, he's lonely, and his emotions are numbed from the anti-depressants he has been taking since childhood.
Theme-wise, 'Garden State' is deeply ambitious, and that it manages to adequately address many complexities in less than two hours is miraculous. To anyone who has struggled to bridge the gap between adolescence and adulthood, this will ring true, and Braff's view of adult relationships is edifying in the way it destroys the obedience that is expected of maturity. And yet for all its genuine and endearing warmth, it also has teeth. There are dark corners here, but light is shone on all of them, and Braff does it without bitterness or recrimination.
There is nothing new in 'Garden State', which is further proof that the success of ideas depends less on originality than it does on execution. And the execution here is perfect. Braff avoids the obvious pitfalls simply by letting the story tell itself. There are no setpieces or dramatic flashes, and any tangents Braff throws in fit with the mood and pace he sets throughout. As an actor, and notwithstanding the character he's playing, Braff is diffident, so it's his screenplay which should bring him the greatest kudos. Sharp, funny, incisive and heartening, it doesn't waste a word, and its allure captures you in a way seldom seen in American cinema.
Quirky, but not annoyingly so, hip but not self-regarding, 'Garden State' also features fine performances from Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, and Ian Holm. To describe it as a delightful coming of age drama might be one cliché too far, so let's just leave it at nice.