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Garden State

Starring Zach Braff, Ian Holm, Ron Liebman, Method Man, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard and Jean Smart
Written and Directed by Zach Braff
website: www2.foxsearchlight.com

IN SHORT: A comedy for the arthouse. [Rated R for language, drug use and a scene of sexuality. 109 minutes]

We've only seen the television comedy Scrubs once, back in its first season. We didn't like it but we've worked in and around the biz long enough to know not to judge on one show in the first season, when comedies are by necessity way-too-broadly drawn. We don't see much television because we're watching movies. It's a fair trade off. What the star of that show, Zach Braff, has delivered for his first feature work is a very intelligent comedy that may put most teen fans of Scrubs to sleep. Those with an extra decade or more of life experience, think anyone post college, who may have faced the death of a family member, and the demo target points to the arthouse.

Braff has not written a broad comedy, but he certainly has a hand on certain bits of visual comedy. There is one scene early on in Garden State that is just brilliantly executed -- we screened the film in a private room packed with critics and every one of (us) let out an "ooo" when the gag tapped into some communal comedy vein. We buried a clue to the gag in the last sentence, and that gag is reason enough to, at minimum, rent Garden State.

Andrew "Large" Largeman (Zach Braff) is a somewhat successful LA based actor who, because of an incident back around age nine, has been heavily medicated (a whole lotta Lithium and Zoloft and so forth) by his psychiatrist. That doc, not coincidentally, happens to be his father Gideon (Ian Holm), a man with emotional problems of his own. When Large returns to his home in New Jersey to attend the funeral of his mother, Large is faced with the unpleasant reality that he may have to face up to everything he ran away from in the first place. Begin with the fact that he doesn't particularly want to be anywhere near his father. Add to it that one of the gravediggers at the cemetery is childhood friend Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) -- who will reconnect Large to other friends left behind -- and move into the Jersey netherworld of reunion after unwanted reunion.

Because of killer, lightning fast headaches Large's dad sends him to see neurologist Dr. Cohen (Ron Liebman), in whose waiting room he meets compulsive liar Sam (Natalie Portman, click for StarTalk). Dr. Cohen will push Large ever closer to dealing with long suppressed problems, even as Sam is drawn closer to his circle. Whether or not it's a true love connection is in question, of course, since Sam is a compulsive liar and Large is swimming in all sorts of emotional stuff.

Again, Garden State is a comedy. A pretty good one for at least the first half of its unspooling time. As Large starts to deal, and as writer Braff starts to push his characters into situations designed to push our emotional buttons in the back half of the film, the light aspects to the comedy fall away fast. Yes, there are certain redemptive aspects found in that latter half, but we needed the comedy balance brought more in alignment to make us rave about our viewing experience. Garden State is not a hard film to sit through. If you've outgrown sloppy comedy in the style of American Pie -- better for us to say if you've outgrown first run viewings of things like Animal House or Porky's, which would make you old enough to appreciate the subtlety of Braff's script -- then Garden State is a film you might want to seek out.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Garden State, he would have paid . . .

$6.50

Rapper Method Man and teevee star Jean Smart have small parts to look out for. So look for them.

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