A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 133 – Garden State

Garden State – July 11th, 2010

Man, this movie starts out depressing. That’s the point, but it really hit me. Going through life disconnected from the things around you isn’t an uncommon theme, but it’s displayed so well in the first few scenes of Andrew’s life in LA, with his immaculate white bedroom and his dreams of not noticing that the plane he’s on is crashing and his cabinet full of antidepressants. It’s just so listless and dispassionate and empty. To be honest, it was hard to watch the beginning. I knew when we put this in that Andy loved it and I was afraid it was going to be another Eternal Sunshine situation where something that resonated with him just made me intensely uncomfortable.

Thank goodness it doesn’t stay stuck in LA. Yes, it moves away from it to New Jersey due to Andrew’s mother dying, but that’s the impetus for him to wake up. At first going home for him seems just as uncomfortable as staying in LA. I got some strong contact discomfort from the whole opening. It’s so painfully clear that Andrew’s family was on poor terms for some time. That things have been broken for years. And then he goes to a party to see some old friends and it doesn’t seem to be any better there either.

The entire beginning of this movie is a tribute to how awkward life can be, and how difficult it can get to work past guilt and a life spent trying to get away from it. The rest of the movie is dealing with it. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it. I wasn’t sure I’d like it. But I did. I really did. It wasn’t just the quirky soundtrack or Natalie Portman proving she can do romance when given a decent script and a love interest she’s got chemistry with, though both of those helped. It was the quiet moments. I have to hand it to Zach Braff. The script is funny and sad and serious in all the right places, and silent in the right places too. There are just bits, little scenes, moments at the end of moments, where no one’s saying anything and no one needs to.

But I’m skipping over plot. Let’s be quick about this. Andrew Largeman is living a thoroughly empty life in LA, not acting and not doing much of anything. His mother dies and he comes home to New Jersey, spending four days reconnecting with his old friends, meeting a young woman named Sam and falling in love with her, and finally having it out with his father, who is also his psychiatrist.

Now, I have two complaints about the movie. One is that it spends a long time getting Andrew to the point where he can actually talk to his father, but then when they do it feels like it’s over very quickly. Their relationship is a spectre hanging over the movie and then there’s not enough time to deal with it as I’d have liked. But there’s so much more to the movie, I can live with that. The other complaint is Andrew’s medications. He’s on a laundry list of antidepressants. It’s implied that he’s been on some sort of antidepressant for 16 years, and that he’s on more than one at the outset of the movie. The list of things he’s on or has been on aren’t meant to be stopped cold turkey. But it’s this revelatory experience for him! Amazing! Yes, being on four or more different antidepressants isn’t a great idea, but everything I’ve ever been told about such things makes me think this is not a realistic depiction of what happens when you go off Zoloft, Celexa, Lithium, Paxil and Depakote. But then he does describe brain zaps. I mainly find it problematic because of the effect it could have on people taking medication.

Despite those problems, however, I really truly liked the movie. If I ignore the medication thing and forgive the briefness of the confrontation with Andrew and his father, the rest of the movie is this strange little journey full of a young man figuring out that his shitty life can be changed. It’s heavily stylized, but also incredibly raw in places. The characters aren’t cookie cutter shapes. They do unexpected things in unexpected but authentic ways. When Sam is crying in a pay phone booth it hurts to see her hurting. When Paul Simon’s Only Living Boy in New York starts playing and it’s raining and Andrew starts screaming, it feels truly cathartic in a way I wasn’t expecting when the movie started.

July 11, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Garden State

July 11, 2010

Garden State

Like Grosse Pointe Blank this movie is about a guy going home after a long absence and trying to figure out what he’s doing with his life. Only Andrew Largeman is doing nothing as cool with his life at the start of the movie as being a hit man. Indeed he’s largely doing nothing. He’s coasting through life in a daze. So the movie is less about reconnecting with old ties and more about trying to find a life for himself. Or how to live.

Zach Braff wrote, directed and starred in this movie. As with Orson Welles before him and Citizen Kane this must be a terrible burden for him: to know that for the whole rest of his life he’ll never be able to do anything as cool. Because this movie is so incredibly clever, funny, and touching that I don’t see how he could possibly do anything better.

The direction in this movie is so deft and effective that it’s humbling at times. It reminds me a lot of the work of Wes Anderson. It has a unique and non-Hollywood feeling. Zach does a great job establishing mood and getting inside Andrew’s head without using any dialog at all. The movie is full of clever reveals and jokes that are entirely non-verbal. But the dialog is very well done as well, and the acting is so great that it’s hard not to almost instantly love all these characters.

As we meet Andrew he’s totally disconnected. He dreams of being in a plane crash, but it’s not a nightmare. It’s just stuff that happens around him. All this screaming and panic and terror. He’s not a part of it. He doesn’t even push the steward call button, he just adjusts the air and sits back. And all that – that’s just the first scene. That just sets the tone.

When Andrew gets a call from his father telling him that his mother has died he heads back home to New Jersey for her funeral. He hasn’t been home in nine years and everyone he knows has changed. Or maybe not really. One of his old high school buddies is a grave digger and another is a millionaire after inventing “silent Velcro.” Most of his friends are total waistoids and drug fiends. For a while it seems that he’s more disconnected and alone than he was back in L.A. with his stalled acting career and his awful job as a waiter at a snooty Vietnamese restaurant.

Then, when visiting a doctor to see why he’s been having these awful sudden painful headaches, he meets Sam. Sam is, of course, the complete opposite of Andrew. She’s all life and joy and energy. Natalie Portman is so vulnerable and wonderful and alive as Sam that, I’ll admit, I couldn’t help falling in love with her myself. It’s when the two of them start to hang out together that the movie really begins, and it’s a strange and beautiful trip from there.

Andrew meets Sam’s family. They have a lot of pets. Her adopted brother was a Sally Struthers “pennies a day” adoptee from Africa who looked her family up when he came to college in America and moved in with them. Everything about her life is comforting and homey and a little odd. Whereas Andrew’s home is huge and well designed and pristine and empty. It looks like an expensive hotel.

I had forgotten before putting this in tonight that it also features Ian Holm as Andrew’s controlling psychiatrist father. Maybe it’s that I just didn’t recognise him without his accent. His performance is wonderfully understated. All quiet and reserved tension. It adds a lot to Andrew’s back story and raises the scenes between the two of them to a whole higher level.

I love this movie so much. I love its quirky acoustic soundtrack. I love the way it takes you to such unexpected places. I love the emotional honesty of the characters and the way they slowly bare their souls to each other. It makes me laugh and it makes me cry and it makes me feel simply wonderful. Like I said: it must be hard for Zach knowing that he peaked so early and will never be able to top it. Though I’d certainly love to see him try.

Good luck exploring the infinite abyss.

July 11, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment