Zach Braff’s Garden State: Beauty In The BreakDown

As home of Bruce Springsteen, the infamous Governor Jim McGreevy, about 3,000 malls, and the author of this article, New Jersey is now also the setting for a film written and directed by N.J. native and Scrubs star Zach Braff. A small local theatre in Braff’s hometown was the ideal place to view this underdog of a movie. While some of the jokes were aimed at an audience aware of the nuances of New Jersey life, Garden State can be understood by all and on several different levels.Dangerously depicted as a “coming home” movie, Braff does a fairly good job of keeping overt sentimentality out of his screenplay – a noteworthy achievement for a first-time screenwriter. In fact, the main character Andrew “Large” Largeman (Braff), enters the film almost completely devoid of emotion. It is not until his unlikely encounter with Sam (Natalie Portman) in a neurologist’s office that the audience sees that Large is capable of more than merely floating through life in the distant and impersonal California. The change Large goes through entails more than falling in love with the witty and unique Sam: it is a decision to stop living life under the prescription drug haze that has overshadowed his life since boarding school.The journey of Braff’s character from watcher to doer gives Garden State a Homeric appeal that at times works perfectly, but at other times isn’t quite believable. Of course, this heightened reality is the nature of the film: even in New Jersey, Method Man isn’t your average hotel bellhop. What allows the audience to accept these stretches of imagination is Braff’s cinematography, which enables the world to be seen through Large’s lithium-induced daze at the start of the film, and then through the stoned state in which he finds himself after reuniting with his Jersey buddies. Reminiscent of some of the scenes in Go, Braff lets moviegoers in on Large’s mindset by altering the way the scenes are shot to create the feeling that one is partaking in the same experiences as the character.Perhaps one of the best things about this movie is how well its soundtrack is incorporated with the plot of the film. In fact, the title of this article is plucked from the song “Let Go” by Frou Frou. Music by The Shins and other local bands, as well as Simon and Garfunkel, adds to the independent feel and overall unique nature of the movie. Adding Simon and Garfunkel to the soundtrack also furthers many of the comparisons made between this movie and The Graduate. However, it should be clear that in no way is Garden State a modern version of The Graduate, regardless of the similarities in personality between the two protagonists.The soundtrack of Garden State, like the film itself, blends the themes of love and happiness with a deep sadness. Certain lines in the movie are witty – sometimes hysterically so – but at the same time an overall darker mood is palpable. Throughout the entire film Braff uses the ideas of death and dying to motivate the plot and characters, playing along a thin line between morbidity and the simple notion that life and death will always be inextricably linked.The Garden State tends to get a bad rap for being under a blanket of smog at all times, living in the dirty shadow of New York City. However, there is a certain beauty in our state that is derived from its simultaneous proximity to the ocean, the Appalachians and vast expanses of farmland. As Large learns, sometimes all you need is a glimpse of what is under the fog to see what you’re missing.