Garden State (2004)

(On Cable TV, August 2013) For years, I’d heard about Garden State as being either a terrific voice-of-a-generation film, or horrifyingly self-indulgent emo-pop.  After seeing the film, well, I have to ask: why can’t it be both?  The first few minutes are unexpectedly skillful, as writer/director/lead Zach Braff sketches an efficient portrait of an emotionless young man forced back home after the death of his mother.  As he reconnects with old friends, the film gives him one epiphany after another and reveals his secrets until he’s supposed to be half-way normal.  It’s easy to make fun of such oh-woe-is-me-my-character self-flagellating filmmaking, but there are some really good directorial moments in Garden State, even though they get less distinctive as the film advances.  Natalie Portman gets to play an eccentric girl that would be insufferable in real life, but is here supposed to be charming beyond belief.  The soundtrack is a collection of meowing, moaning, self-pitying slow ballads (your mileage may vary) that show better than anything else how I’m not supposed to be the target audience for the film.  While I’d be interested in seeing other directorial efforts by Braff, he can probably leave the episodic journey of self-discovery by a damaged protagonist thing behind.

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