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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

photo caption:
KINDRED SOULS IN A BIZARRE WORLD: Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff, left) finds solace and companionship in the company of Sam (Natalie Portman) in their peregrimations around New Jersey.
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"Garden State": Grieving Hollywood Actor Meets Jersey Girl in Romantic Comedy

Review by Kam Williams

Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) is an actor who has found a measure of success playing a retarded character on a network TV series. After nine years in Hollywood, this means that while he may have a famous face, he still has to supplement his modest income by waiting tables. Unfortunately, he is addicted to a daily cocktail of lithium and other pills to deal with his depression.

The unexpected death of his mother has brought Andrew back home to suburban New Jersey for her funeral. This is his first return to his childhood roots after a long absence. Unfortunately, his status as a celebrity immediately interferes with his need to grieve and exorcise some personal demons.

The competing demands of long-lost friends, relatives, and even strangers, who recognize him from television, conspire to prevent Andrew from mourning in any meaningful manner.

Andrew abandons all his medicines, and starts tooling around town on a classic motorcycle with a sidecar. At every turn, it seems, he finds himself accosted by off-the-wall individuals.

There's the annoying aunt (Jackie Hoffman) who has sewn him a shirt out of excess material from his mom's drapes, the hardware store employee intent on interesting him in a pyramid scheme, the buddy who works as a knight at a theme restaurant called Medieval Times, and the sadistic kid (Armando Riesco), who's made millions with the invention of silent Velcro.

Garden State marks the brilliant directorial and script-writing debut of 29 year-old Zach Braff, an actor best known for his portrayal of Dr. John Dorian on the NBC-TV series Scrubs. The South Orange native has crafted a memorable movie out of a mixture of his own memories, local Jersey lore, and his vivid imagination.

The film was shot on location in South Orange, Cranford, Wallington, Tenafly, and Newark. Braff has such a keen eye for the offbeat, that every setting and encounter is freaky, quirky, or somehow bizarre.

Despite the distraction of weirdos, adoring fans, perverted pets and bizarre backdrops, our protagonist presses on. However, he's obviously avoiding a showdown with his psychiatrist and estranged father (Ian Holm), whom he blames for getting him hooked on prescription drugs.

Andrew finally finds a calming friend in Sam (Natalie Portman), the cute, compulsive, epileptic liar who befriends him in a hospital waiting room. Sam takes him home to meet her neurotic mom (Jane Houdyshell) and her African brother (Ato Essandoh).

As they negotiate their way around the neighborhood during Andrew's brief stay, the couple keeps the world's strangeness at bay with secret signals and by leaning on each other as they become emotionally intimate. Will he head back to Hollywood or try a new life with his new love?

For all its serious psychiatric pretense, Garden State is an introspective semi-autobiographical exercise which is a tender-hearted romantic comedy that really works.

Excellent (4 stars). R for profanity, alcohol and drug abuse, nudity, and graphic sexuality.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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