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Saturday, August 21, 2004
And the "Vietnamese" restaurant was funny
It's hard to argue with a movie that manages to plop Natalie Portman in a hamster cemetery. Despite first time director Zach Braff's efforts to pull off a 21st-century Graduate and his studio's efforts to sell the film as the next Lost in Translation, Garden State feels emptier than the Sopranos' pool in January.
Garden State opens with Braff on a crashing airplane, apathetically staring straight ahead as the passenger's around him panic. Is the plane really going down or is this just an obvious metaphor for his mental state? The film offers no answers as he heads back to his home state for his mother's funeral, his first trip back in almost nine years. Stuck in a semi-permanent Zoloft haze, Braff wanders around his old digs catching up with friends. One has become a cop and another resides in an empty mansion after selling a patent for silent Velcro. Along the way he unearths an old WW2-era motorcycle in his father's garage and hooks up with a pathological liar played by Portman.
The film is littered with great scenes. In one, Braff finds himself stuck in a slow-motion paralysis as partygoers around him buzz around like hummingbirds. In another, he encounters a family living in an upturned boat on the edge of a bottomless pit.
If Garden State were a band it would be the Strokes: a tailor-made pacifier for twenty-something that pine for the "good ol' days" when rock stars sneered and films were more about mood and style than plot. It borrows parts from other cult indie hits to assemble an eager-to-please Frankenstein monster: the rogues gallery of off-beat characters from Welcome to the Dollhouse and The Royal Tenenbaums, the tourist-in-suburbia pangs of Ghost World, the stranger-in-a-strange land alienation of LIT, the prescription-fueled fog of Donnie Darko along with the critically-approved soundtrack of all five.
But as a twenty-something that endlessly complains about the blandness of modern pop culture I can't help but love the damn thing...just like Is This It?. Garden State is pandering and its themes are as heavy-handed as the winning story in a high school fiction contest. Despite it all, this is probably the best film I'll see all year. Plus, it's 15,000 times better than the smug and oh-so-trite Napolean Dynamite.
Really, the only decent scene in that movie is when he starts dancing.