Garden State’ showcases sitcom star Braff as director

Michael McKenna

The star of NBC’s sitcom “Scrubs,” Zach Braff, presents his screenwriting and directing debut in “Garden State,” a film nominated for the Grand Jury Prize in Dramatics at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.

Andrew Largeman, played by Braff, is introduced in the film lying flat and emotionless in his completely white, unwrinkled and unfurnished bedroom. He listens to an answering machine message from his father, played giftedly by Iam Holm, notifying him that his paraplegic mother drowned and that he must fly home to New Jersey for the funeral.

Andrew is a lackadaisical, heavily medicated individual who works at a Vietnamese restaurant in Los Angeles where he has attempted to become an actor. His single triumph has been playing a mentally challenged quarterback in a made for TV movie. Andrew leaves behind his heavily prescription drug filled medicine cabinet and heads back home for the first time in over nine years.

He shows little emotion at his mother’s funeral, but recognizes some of his old high school friends as a pair of gravediggers. Braff’s character is soon surrounded by old friends, drinking, taking ecstasy, playing spin-the-bottle, and waking up with expletives and immature graphics drawn on his face and body in permanent marker.

Gideon, Andrew’s father, makes an appointment for his son to see a neurologist to check out some migraines he has been experiencing. While at the office, Andrew meets his love interest for the duration of the film, the beautiful, quirky, and all too available to be believable pathological liar, Sam (Natalie Portman). Portman’s character is nice enough to look at, but her character’s lack of any growth or real substance other than to play the oddball “destined to be” lover leaves her hanging short of potential and out of place in terms of her typical roles. Meeting Sam rekindles the flame of personality that has been imprisoned within Andrew due to his father’s overmedication of him since his youth.

Aside from scenes involving the deepening bond between Andrew and Sam, the film, on a larger scale, portrays Andrew awakening from his numbness and struggling to reconnect with the world.

The majority of the film is spent following Andrew, Sam, and high school chum Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), a pot smoking entrepreneur of sorts, on a treasure hunt through New Jersey. Their adventure brings them into contact with seedy hotel staff, a millionaire classmate who invented silent Velcro, and a couple who live in a hollowed out boat at the bottom of an abandoned quarry.

Andrew’s toughest struggle is reconnecting with his father, who believes that Andrew must be sheltered until he can forgive himself for crippling his mother when he was a child – an accident which occurred when Andrew shoved his mother and she tripped over the door to the dishwasher, landing her on the base of her neck and rendering her paralyzed from the site of impact down. Andrew is not a child anymore, and in the short time he has spent at home, he realizes that his father, and a broken latch on the dishwasher door, was to blame for his detached existence.

The grand finale of Braff’s film puts Andrew and Sam, who have grown so close together and fallen in love over a period of less than a week, in a terribly clich