Thursday, December 3, 2009

Upon Further Review
"If I had a spoiler, I'd spoil in the morning..."

I first saw the movie Garden State during it's run in theaters back in 2004. And though I enjoyed it, I've just- at the end of 2009- gotten around to watching it a second time. It's interesting how much your perspective can change over five years.
The first thing I noticed about Garden State the second time through was how much of the humor still worked. For the most part the comedy lays in casual social observation-so the jokes have a rather impressive shelf life. No matter what year it is, it's still a hilariously awkward situation when you sit down to breakfast with your friend, his mom, and her new boyfriend- who also happens to be someone you went to high school with, and haven't seen since. Found myself laughing more this time around actually, as I have since gone around the block a few more times and have more to relate to.
The overall message of the movie still rings true as well. As I was a much less analytical movie watcher back then, I'd like to think I gathered more this time around. Braff points out a little more in the "don't waste your life" message than some other writers might. He proclaims that it is not only the chemically imprisoned Andrew Largeman who's lost these last nine years, or the cliched 26 year-old pothead who still lives at home. It's also the bored millionaire, and the haunted widower. This side of the story I saw much more clearly this time around, and appreciated the movie all the more for it.
Along with these welcome additions to the experience, however, come some quirks I definitely didn't notice my first time around. Though there are moments in Garden State that just feel a bit forced. The first and most prominent being the scene in which Andrew finally confronts his father.
First, I have to compliment the writing in all the other scenes dealing with this strained father son relationship. Let alone the powerful underlying story of how these two became estranged, Braff captures amazingly (and with a proper amount of subtlety) the way that resent and love can mix so seamlessly when it comes to family. But with that said, the final scene between the two felt a little underwhelmed to me. Nine years of pent up resentment and anger and it all gets resolved in a tidy little chat? Not even a raised voice in sight, less than a week after burying the matriarch of their family? I think not.
Along those same lines is what irked me about the ending this time around. Natalie Portman turns in a great performance as Sam; a clever and adorable pathological liar. She and Andrew meet and fall for one another in what is a most enjoyable "two strangers" romance. When he goes to return to Los Angeles they share a goodbye scene that at the time didn't really strike me, but now that I've said a few more hard goodbyes myself, I realize is a truly well written one. And that's when things take a turn for me.
Andrew boards his plane, but then realizes that leaving may be another missed chance in a life full of missed chances, and comes back. So where does he find Sam? Not in a taxi, or waiting to see his plain take off; he finds her bawling in a phone booth... Really? She's known this guy for four days and when he leaves she's openly weeping alone in a phone booth, completely in pieces? Reminds me of another, more recent, female lead I know...
Five years later, Garden State is a movie that still works for me. For every thing I noticed in the second viewing that took away from my initial opinions, there's something else I noticed that makes me think more of it than I already did. I would say that, for the most part, what doesn't quite make the cut in this movie can be attributed to a fledgling writer penning the screenplay. As a debut for Zach Braff as both writer and director int he feature film world, I still call Garden State a home run. Now, just like then, I look forward to his follow up.

Upon Further Review
Movie: Garden State
Initial Review: A beautiful first attempt.
Status: Maintained

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