Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Garden State

MPAA Rating: R for language, drug use and a scene of sexuality

Reviewed by: Jonathan Rodriguez

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Drama, Romance
1 hr. 49 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Featuring: Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Ian Holm, Peter Sarsgaard, Geoffrey Arend
Director: Zach Braff
Producer: Gary Gilbert, Dan Halsted, Pamela Abdy, Richard Klubeck
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Films and Miramax Films
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Films and Miramax Films
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Copyright, Fox Searchlight Films and Miramax Films
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Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) shuffled through life in a lithium-induced coma until his mother’s death inspired a vacation from the pills to see what might happen. Returning to his hometown in the Garden State, “Large” finds old acquaintances around every corner living quite unique lives as grave diggers (Peter Sarsgaard), fast food knights and the panderers of pyramid schemes.

By a twist of fate, Large meets Sam (Natalie Portman), a girl who is everything he isn’t. A blast of color, hope and quirks, Sam becomes a sidekick who refuses to ride in his sidecar. Her warmth and fearlessness give Large the courage to open his heart to the joy and pain of the infinite abyss that is life.”

“Garden State” is the directorial debut of Zach Braff, best known for his role on NBC’s “Scrubs.” The film, also written by Braff, tells the story of Andrew Largeman, an overmedicated waiter in Los Angeles who is known to others as the guy who played the mentally challenged kid in a made-for-TV football movie.

The film opens with him recieving a phone call from his father back home in New Jersey telling him that his parapalegic mother has drowned. Andrew flies home and is met by his father, with whom Andrew very clearly has no real relationship. His father, a psychiatrist, put Andrew on medications after his mother became paralyzed, and Andrew had never really forgiven him for making him “numb” to life. Ian Holm (“The Lord of The Rings” trilogy) plays his father, in a good, if not slighty underwritten role. Perhaps more could have been made of their relationship; the scenes with Braff and Holm are tense and well acted.

Andrew meets up with his old high school buddies once he arrives home. Childhood friend Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) is an alcoholic, drug-addicted gravedigger, and Jessie (Armando Riesco) made millions inventing a silent form of Velcro. While at the doctor’s one day, he meets Samantha, a sweet, talkative girl who he has immediate chemistry with. The two venture around town, have deep conversations, and fall in love over the course of the film.

Braff has fledged out well-written characters with very believable dialogue, but the characters themselves are depressing. Andrew’s friends are all basically washed up losers, who haven’t gotten out of the party scene and moved on with their lives. They are all searching for some kind of quick fix, some cure all to enhance their seemingly worthless existence. When Andrew asks his friend Jessie what its like having so much money, Jessie says “its boring”; he bought things to make him happy, but eventually realized they weren’t enough, and is now in search of something to fill the hole his money cannot.

“Garden State” is essentially a big hole. All of its characters are looking for happiness, looking for hope, looking for relief from their pathetic lives, and can never seem to quite grasp it. The film feels empty from the start, and the blank stare that adorns Andrew’s face throughout the entire movie is indicative of his lost life. There is a line near the end that sums up what all the characters are going through and how they feel; Samantha tells Andrew “That’s life. It’s real, and sometimes it ******* hurts, but that’s all we got.”

As Christians, we know that there is so much more to life. Jesus himself said “I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly,” and all it takes is to turn one’s life over to God and stop trying to fix things yourself. Sadly, the characters in “Garden State” are much like those all around us, who will turn to anything for hope.

The film contains very strong profanity, with over 50 uses of the f-word. Drugs are seen throughout the movie as various people use them, as well as alcohol. And a very bizzare sex scene pops up near the end, in a scene that feels incredibly out of place in this film. The characters go to a hotel to pick up something, and the bellhop is seen allowing people to pay him, so they can go into a room, where various peep holes show us the hotel patrons having sex.

The film’s content is needless to say very inappropriate for children and teenagers, as is the film’s message.

“Garden State” is a well-written, very well acted film that 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.

“Garden State” ranks as a C.

Violence: Minor / Profanity: Extreme / Sex/Nudity: Extreme

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Movie Critics
…a short-sighted, spiritually dead rant about how the only thing in life that means anything is what’s happening right now…
—Steven Isaac, Plugged In
…meanders and ambles and makes puzzling detours. But it’s smart and unconventional…
—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
…a fanciful little indie brimming with emo music and curious little vignettes…
—Megan Lehmann, New York Post
…Profanity: Extreme… at least 50 “f” words… / Sex/Nudity: Extreme… including separate hetero and lesbian making out…
…a man and a woman having sex (she’s on her hands and knees and he thrusts from behind her), we hear them moaning and see her bare breasts and his bare chest, and people (including a boy) are watching…
…genuinely dark sense of humor, understated performances and a rejection of tidy conclusions…
—E! Online
…hard-edged and big-hearted all at once…
—Duane Byrge, Hollywood Reporter
Positive—This movie was amazing, Zach Braff proved that he has a strong talent for acting, writing and directing with a movie that is so deeply rivoting that it stirs the spirit. I have read that some view the characters in this movie as hopeless, and unable to find hope but I saw this movie with a friend of mine, and we both emphatically agreed that this movie is about hope. It’s about reality, and life, and its not candy-coated, and sometimes its hard, but its REAL! Since “In America” I have not seen such a movie that possessed such admirable qualities, and I personally cannot wait to see this movie again and see what else I can gain from it! It made me want to run out and twirl in the rain, scream into a canyon and make the most out of every minute of this life that God has given me! Bravo “Garden State”!!!

Concerning the scene of sexuality: It was out of place but also metaphorical of just how low his friends life really was, like pond scum low. the drug use and language in this movie is a reality. A larger reality then many of us care to admit, and the circles of people that this movie reflects live just like this movie depicts. It was not done to be offensive, just to be real. Again, this movie was fabulous, beautiful, splendid, remarkable!
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/5]
—M. Wagner, age 28
Positive—…one of the funniest films you’ll see this year. It has so much wit and humor, and these characters are SO interesting, and there is so much we can learn from them, and you know what, so much that we as Christians should be telling other people. The film is about waking up from a life of nothingness. That, essentially, is what Andrew Largeman’s life is at the beginning of the film: Nothing. In the few scenes we see of him in LA, we neither see nor hear any friends, not even a mention of them. In one of the opening scenes, we find out, with him, that his mother has drowned, and that he needs to go home for her funeral. That situation spirals into an amazing journey. The characters are so fascinating because they are very close to REAL people. We can identify with them on so many levels.

Without giving too much away, we learn of a great deal of tragedy in Andrew’s life, which has molded him into the nothingness he is. That is, until Sam (played by Natalie Portman) enters his life. Their relationship is so wonderful, their conversations so poignant and touching, and even though they’ve basically just met, the film allows them time to get to know each other, to discover each other’s idiosynchrasies and quirks. Few movies are this observant… this honest.

One of the best scenes is where he tells Sam for the first time, why he is home. “My mom died,” he says, and here the film gets it just right, with Andrew adding, “Wow, that feels so weird to say out loud. My mom died.” Like I said, it’s about so many things. It is about coming home after a long time away; about dealing with loss; dealing with pain, in general; the need for deep restoration; that emptiness in life is combatted ONLY by love. And here is where Christians need to step in. How often does Christ use an intimate friendship or relationship to touch people with his love? All the time! He blesses us through those around us in ways we often don’t even realize. In that way, “Garden State” is very much like Paul Thomas Andersons’ “Punch Drunk Love.”

The reviewer refers to a group of “washed up losers” …in my opinion untrue. Take Mark, played by Peter Sarsgaard… He SEEMS like a loser, but then through the course of the film, and particularly with the climax, we see that there is a substantial amount of good in him, aching to get out. Notice how good he feels in his final scene. Notice his facial expressions throughout the last part of the movie. This is telling us not to give up on people… The great thing about great films is that, even if they aren’t made by Christians, they invariably have Christian elements. Why? Because if a film achieves any sort of truth, then it has hit on something that is inherent in Christianity. Christianity is about walking in truth and love by faith. Now, does the filmmaker realize that his film agrees with Christianity? I don’t know. But that’s the great thing about being a Christian! If we seek the Lord, he will give us a Godly perspective with which to view life. That is my prayer when I go to see a film, and I felt so encouraged in my walk with God afterwards, I truly did. I felt that way after “The passion of the Christ,” and after “Kill Bill: Vol. 2” and after “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Now, I’m not contending that this film is blatantly Christian, because the characters, to be sure, are not. But it is merely a story. A story that is trying to say something. And it does that wonderfully… This is a great, great film.
My Ratings: [Average/5]
—Jason Eaken, age 20