Braff triumphs in funny, clever ‘Garden State’


In his new film “Garden State,” actor, writer and director Zach Braff tackles a story that reaches audiences of all ages and on different levels. Braff also does a commendable job in all three of his roles on the film.

“I wanted to make a smart love story for young people,” he said, “and I wanted to make a movie that got across the feeling of what it’s like to come home.”

Andrew Largeman (Braff) is a young man who has been hiding from his life by acting on television in Los Angeles. He decides to return to New Jersey to see old friends and recall his past. At the same time, he must deal with a painful part of his life he’s avoided: the suicide of his paraplegic mother and a domineering father (Ian Holm) who thinks he knows what Andrew should do with his life.

Andrew is withdrawn when he arrives back home, but once he meets up with some of his old bizarre pals - a gravedigger and a guy who wears a suit of armor on the job - Andrew remembers that life can also be fun. Braff’s role as Dr. John Dorain on the television comedy, “Scrubs,” and the years during his personal life that he admits to trying comedy, are clearly evident in the comedic aspects of the story and its characters.

“At their core, they’re based on real stories or real people,” said Braff. “I try not to write a character for quirky sakes, just to make them extraordinarily real.”

Take Andrew’s friend Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), a gravedigger who lives with his pot-smoking mother (Jean Smart). Yet beyond his oddity and unpretentiousness, lies a man who has a deep understanding of many things, and he knows when Andrew really needs a shoulder to lean on.

More fun than quirky is Sam (Natalie Portman), who Andrew meets in the dentist’s office. She is so much the opposite of him that he loves everything about her. His family is ordered, black and white and somber. Her family life is chaotic, colorful and close-knit.

Andrew loves the humor he finds in Sam and soon falls head over heels for her. She wants him to learn that if you can’t laugh at yourself, life isn’t worth living. But can she be the one to open him up to the change that will allow their relationship to work?

“Our main character is so entangled with his life,” Braff said, “he doesn’t know how to move on, not by forgetting his past, but allowing that period of his life to be at rest so he can move on.”