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Heroes of the Zeroes: Garden State

by on April 26, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.


“Garden State”
Rated R
2004

If Zach Braff’s “Garden State” no longer feels like the generational alarm clock it did in 2004, that’s because “Elizabethtown” and “The Last Kiss” (also with Braff) made it easier to hit snooze on poor-me whines of twentysomething males in quarter-life crises.

But for those who’ve seen loved ones stumble through complacent fogs of Paxil, Zoloft and the like, “State” is still a stirring warning that “stability” doesn’t mean a numbness to anything that’s not emotionally even-keeled. And an absence of confrontation shouldn’t be confused for the presence of happiness.

Braff, who also wrote and directed, is Andrew Largeman, a failed actor whose mother’s death sends him to his New Jersey home for the first time in years. Leaving behind his medication, he gets a natural high from Sam (Natalie Portman), a vivacious woman in whose companionship he finds a normalcy he’s missed.

There are worse films to emulate than “The Graduate,” although the future that plastic foretells here is much sadder. Braff updates that film’s ideas of shaking off life’s looming expectations using equally observant visual motifs, carefully crafted conversations and earnest, winning characterizations.

Portman has never felt as natural — unguarded, nervous, at times appearing as if she’s about to break — and Peter Sarsgaard skillfully sways between skeezy menace and unexpected kindness as Andrew’s ne’er-do-well old pal.

Unexpected comic payoffs delayed Andrew’s dilemma of choosing spontaneity over a smoothed-out existence. But “State” concluded with comforting conflict — confronting unhappiness with one part of life might open you up to the rest it can offer.


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