a quick take by Tony McRae

After seeing “The Station Agent,” the “Sopranos,” and now  “Garden State ” I am beginning to suspect that New Jersey is a state of mind. 

If when you first see Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) sitting stupefied in an airplane that’s about to crash, you might experience déjà vu:  isn't this the stony face of the young Dustin Hoffman in  “The Graduate”?  Andrew Largeman—“Large” to his friends—is a latter-day Benjamin Braddock, a lost soul distanced from his parents and school friends, and without a clue as to what to do with his life.

The screenplay, written by Braff, is a marvel, blending the themes of literal burial (Large is home from L.A. to be at his mother’s funeral), and the burial of emotions.  Not only Large’s emotions, but his father’s and his friends’, most of whom are stoned on drugs of one kind or another.  Large himself has been on prescription drugs—prescribed by his psychiatrist father (Ian Holm)—since the age of nine when in a rage he pushed his mother and she fell and was paralyzed from the neck down.  Now fifteen years later he returns from Los Angeles to his native state, a sort of celebrity in that he played a retarded athlete in a made-for TV movie.  He was so good in the role that a young woman asks him if he really isn't retarded.  

A good question actually.  After seeing Large walking the streets of his hometown, you might ask the same question.

The woman asking the question will become the unlikely impetus for Large's extrication from his pharmaceutically induced stupor.  Her name is Sam (Nathalie Portman) and if anything she’s as vulnerable as Large.  To illustrate, she lies regularly, and her off-the-wall family has a thing about pets who just happen to die with unnerving regularity.  Of course they must be buried, and it’s the burial of a pet gerbil that brings Large and Sam closer. 

While this may sound crazy and disquieting, it’s also tender and sweet.  And it rings true, at least for me.  If you remember, at the end of “The Graduate” Benjamin has rescued Elaine from a rebound marriage; our last look at them is a two-shot in which they both appear numbed.  Since they have not learned to take one another seriously, I hold out little hope for them.  

The ending of Garden State” is open ended, but I do give the young couple a better chance, maybe because they are more likeable, both to us and to each other.  They also take each other seriously, that is, Large's drug-induced persona is shocked into forgetting about himself and becoming aware of an entirely different person, Sam.  She is the first person he doesn't see as a means to his own dreamy gratification.  This may not be a predictor of marital bliss, but it shows an unselfishness that bodes well for their future.  

Rated R for strong language and sexual situations.

Visit IMDb for details about the movie.