Judge Ryan Keefer used to work with a lot of people from New Jersey, but the smell of all the hair and nail products became too much and he had to leave.
"It's amazing how much of my life has been determined by a quarter inch piece of plastic."
Come on, a mainstream sitcom actor who's just a kid, directing an independent film with a few famous names in it? Smells like coffeehouse tripe to me. And as the sixth season of Zach Braff's show Scrubs comes to a close, DVD Verdict looks back on Garden State and finds out what the hubbub was all about.
Facts of the Case
Andrew (Braff) is an aspiring actor in L.A., who recently found out about the death of his mother, via answering machine, by his father Gideon (Ian Holm, The Lord of the Rings). Andrew flies back to New Jersey for the funeral for a few days, and encounters old friends who he hasn't seen in years. Gideon has served as Andrew's therapist, and has kept him on prescription medication since he was a child. Through his experiences back home, he encounters a rebirth of sorts, spiritually, convincing himself to try life without lithium. With the assistance of his new friend Sam (Natalie Portman, Closer), Andrew finds out the meaning of living and enjoying things.
When I first saw the trailers for Garden State, I thought that perhaps Zach Braff was stepping into a pretentious area, and that maybe his attempt at an art house drama was pretty much going to regulate him to TV, performing on Scrubs for another couple years until syndication before making a few movies and fading into obscurity, with the occasional sitcom reappearance. While Braff is fun and generally goofy on Scrubs, I wasn't expecting too much, but after seeing Garden State I'm ready to eat my words. Braff's dramatic touch was better than I anticipated. Full of emotion, good performances, and even some cleverly done dark humor, the film is an excellent first effort by Braff, who wrote, produced, directed and appeared as the main character, Andrew Largeman.
Surprisingly, Braff was able to land a pretty good group of actors, among them Holm and Portman (who turns in an especially excellent performance). As Andrew's friend Mark, Peter Sarsgaard (Jarhead) is very good as well, and his star continues to rise. While the end of the film is a huge disappointment and seems a little tacked on, it doesn't detract too much from the film itself. The film's plot is pretty close to form in modern dramas, but Braff approaches it in a smarter and more reflective direction, and it's as good a first step in screenwriting and directing as you may see nowadays from a semi-established actor.
Fox gives Garden State a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen look that is good for the most part. However, in a few shots, the image loses a bit of its sharpness, and there is some visible edge enhancement. Granted, it's not reference quality, but it's good considering all the factors involved. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is fairly subdued, but there's a lot of good music on the soundtrack that works well through a home theater setup.
There's a surprising amount of extras, starting with a commentary from Braff and Portman. Both with this track and the other track, Braff illustrates why some shots were composed the way they were and keeps the conversation going with Portman fairly well. Though there isn't too much that you'll get from listening to this track, it may be worth listening to for fans of the movie. Braff returns for a more technical track with the crew (cinematographer Lawrence Sher, production designer Judy Becker and editor Myron Kerstein). This track is a little livelier, as Braff does a good job of keeping everyone involved in the track without too much dead air from anyone. It sounds like the commentary was done after the movie had wrapped, so everyone liked coming back to it, and of the two commentary tracks, this is the better one to listen to. Along with these features, there is a half hour of deleted scenes and alternate takes, about 16 total. A couple of them are production footage before effects, and a lot of them were cut for obvious pacing reasons. One featuring a detailed exchange between Braff and Holm which was very good, but perhaps humanized Holm a little bit, and I can see why it was cut. In addition, a 30-minute making of featurette was better than anticipated. Without narration, this is a good fly-on-the-wall look at the production, featuring interview footage from most of the crew (Sher nails down the movie's humor as being somewhat reminiscent of a Hal Ashby film). As the "jewel" of the production is the aged boat, periodically the piece checks in on how the production was going in aging the boat. All in all it's a good look at the production. There are also three minutes of outtakes along with a promo for the film's soundtrack.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
That damn ending, it seems a little too "up" for me. Granted, it does make sense at the end of the day for Andrew's character, but it's probably the less sharp of the double-edged sword. Do it and you tack on a cheesy ending, don't and you become yet another independent film that thinks that it's too smart for the room.
Most anyone who has seen the film comes away more impressed by Braff's talents than you would expect. It's a very good film by a multi-talented actor, and I think it speaks to a larger disassociated position of today's generation (did I just say that?). It's definitely worth renting, and fans of the film and of Braff will enjoy this in their library, as the amount of extra material is pretty ample.
Not guilty for Braff's freshman talents as a director and writer. The court is looking forward to what he can do with it in the future.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Zach Braff and Natalie Portman
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