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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Garden State': A Young Man's Playful Yet Emotionally Wrought Coming-of-Age Story

Movie poster for the 2004 film Garden State

Garden State (2004) is a wistful and offbeat comedy-drama starring Zach Braff as Andrew Largeman, a struggling Los Angeles-based actor who returns home to New Jersey to attend his mother's funeral. Haunted by childhood trauma and estranged from his psychiatrist father Gideon (Ian Holm), Largeman immerses himself in escapism alongside childhood friend Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) and burgeoning love interest Samantha (Natalie Portman).

First meeting Samantha at a local doctor's office, Andrew soon learns that her outlandish personal anecdotes are the symptoms of pathological lying, while he carries his own psychological burdens addressed by multiple medications. The mutually damaged pair hatches a fast friendship beset by rowdy hijinks with Mark and various colorful acquaintances, Andrew finding solace in a rediscovered appreciation for his roots. Ultimately Mark sets the trio on a complex quest in search of a mysterious artifact he has earmarked as a departing gift for Andrew upon his return to California—one beset by humor and surprising discovery.

Written and directed by Braff in his feature film debut, Garden State is an intimate and playful tale of maturation. Braff balances humor and pathos with careful fidelity, offsetting his character's often sardonic temperament with colorful supporting characters and curious escapades. Finely paced, visually compelling (kudos to cinematographer Lawrence Sher) and replete with a wonderfully emotive soundtrack, Braff's film succeeds as a milestone in early-21st Century independent filmmaking.


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