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Garden State

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Jan
Garden State
from Film Forum, 08/12/04

Zach Braff, star of TV's Scrubs, emerges as an auteur-in-the-making with his first film, the romantic comedy Garden State. He plays a television actor named Andrew Largeman, a young man whose lithium-altered life changes when the death of his mother prompts him to give up his drugs and try taking life more seriously. Assailed by an arrogant and meddling father, he tries to form some new relationships, which leads him to a feisty and remarkable young woman (Natalie Portman) who tries to heal his heart's deep wounds.

Garden State has earned a warm reception in the film festival circuit. Now that it's playing in select cities, religious press critics are offering mixed reviews.

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) is somewhat impressed. "Well written and acted, the visually quirky film … offers witty observations on family, loss and America's fascination with pharmaceutical solutions to life's problems. However, the movie's hope-affirming message is weighed down by its catatonic talkiness."

J. Robert Parks (Looking Closer) says, "Garden State is filled with quirky touches that don't always add up to much. But the characters are realistic. We ache for these people, but not without hope. In a summer dominated by cardboard characters and cut-out plots, Garden State is a refreshing story filled with true-to-life characters."

Mainstream critics are applauding the film.

from Film Forum, 08/26/04

Garden State, Zach Braff's debut as a director, writer, and big screen star earned enthusiastic raves from two Christian press critics this week. Others seem to have seen a completely different film.

"I genuinely related to [the main character's] struggles, his hopes, his fears, and his feelings," says Josh Hurst (Reveal), who calls it his favorite film of 2004 so far, and describes Braff as "a formidable new force in filmmaking. This is obviously what Braff was born to do; he's got a great eye for directing and a great heart for storytelling. And he ain't bad at picking a cast, either. He also has a knack for small details; there are enough subtleties and nuances in Garden State to make it worth seeing more than once."

Ronnie Fauss (Relevant) says the movie "will likely pull you in to the point that you find yourself hopelessly in love with the characters. Issues such as redemption, acceptance and romance are attacked with a level of ferocity that is seldom seen in Hollywood. But it is the idea of 'going home' that is explored more than any other in this film. This issue seems to be why the movie resonates so loudly with twenty and thirtysomethings, as the loneliness that so many of us feel in this stage of life is addressed with an unflinching authenticity."

Jonathan Rodriguez (Christian Spotlight) agrees that it's "a well-written, very well acted film," but he complains that it "never gets us involved, never really makes us truly care about the plight of its characters. It's sad, but the Garden State is really an overwhelming state of emptiness."

Andrew Coffin (World) is not much impressed either. "Garden State is one of those films that speaks with the power of general revelation—i.e., it reflects things that are true about the world as God created it—but doesn't quite go far enough to make a statement that's truly profound. That, combined with the strong bad language, makes this intriguing and inventive film tough to recommend."

from Film Forum, 09/02/04

Steven Isaac (Plugged In) says the movie "turns the corner from being a positive reminder about the value of a life well-lived into a short-sighted, spiritually dead rant about how the only thing in life that means anything is what's happening right now. Justifiably or not, New Jersey is infamous for its polluted beaches and toxic landfills. Garden State just adds to the litter."