Garden State

Friday, July 20, 2007

There's the kernel of a good idea lurking somewhere within Garden State's obnoxious body. There's potential in the story of a young man going back to his hometown to try and redress his strained relationship with his father in the wake of his mother's death. But sadly, instead of using subtlety to deal with the issues at hand, we're bludgeoned with 'whacky' humour, annoying characters and limp-wristed music. The film's a smorgasbord of tricks and conceits, none of which work.

The film begins with quite an interesting image. Braff sits expressionless on a plane as everyone else screams in panic – the plane seems to be crashing. It's nicely shot in slow motion and it tells you a lot about the character. But unfortunately that one shot also tells you all you need to know about him – he's numb to the nosedive his life has taken. So right from the beginning you know everything you need to know about this person. And the details you find out later really add little or nothing to our understanding of him; nothing is explored in any meaningful way (an insightful look into the effects of long-term prescription drug use, it most certainly isn't).

And that shot of Braff sitting expressionless on the plane is an ominous warning as to the quality of Braff's performance. He literally does nothing but look glum. But instead of portraying sadness as it really is – an external stillness with an internal chaos – he merely looks bored. And you never get the feeling that there's anything going on behind Braff's eyes – he's not a good enough actor to project his thoughts to the audience.

The effect all this had on me was that I really couldn't care about his character. His problems seem no different to everyone else's and he never seemed real enough to draw any sympathy. And it's the refusal to deal with reality that frustrated me the most. All the time the film tries to be cute or quirky or whacky when a little realism would have suited the theme of the film much better – a genuine look at disaffection and grief is eschewed in favour of hamster funerals and women reciting Lionel Ritchie lyrics.

But although Braff is a blank faced waste of space, a pouting non-entity who seems to be made out of MDF, it's Natalie Portman who makes this film an ordeal. She plays an epileptic who compulsively lies, who makes annoying sounds in a deluded attempt to be original, who keeps a pet cemetery in her garden and who, most heinously of all, wont shut her goddamned mouth. Seriously, any man who willing listens to her empty-headed twittering deserves depression. She's the kind of woman that would make any right-headed man hack his cock off with a garden trowel if he had to spend more than five minutes with her. For fuck's sake, there's a scene where she grabs a cup so she can capture Braff's tears. These aren't the actions of a lovable eccentric, they're the actions of a lunatic.

And then there's the scene where we're introduced to her. She laughs as a dog humps Braff's leg and then she talks and talks and talks and talks. And after she's bored us all to death with her self-important dribble she makes Braff listen to a piece of music. Apparently it's so good it'll change Braff's life. But instead all we hear are The Shins. And the moment with the music is completely pointless. It doesn't add any emotion and it doesn't tells us anything of any interest about the characters. It's only there because Braff loves The Shins and he's going to shoehorn them into his film in any way he can.

But the film's most spectacular failure is its inability to produce any laughs. Every gag in the film is either tired (dog humping someone's leg? I've never seen that before), twee (a dotty old woman gives Braff a shirt that is the same awful design as her wallpaper) or self-conscious (in one scene Braff wakes up to see a knight walking about, a knight who turns out to be a kid who works at one of those medieval themed restaurants. It's a joke that is trying far too hard to be odd. And it defies logic. Wouldn't the kid get dressed at work rather than drive his car while wearing a cumbersome suit? But Braff doesn't want logic to get in the way of his failed attempt to be original). Other self-consciously 'quirky' jokes that don't work include the scene where characters speak Klingon, the scene where we see Portman ice skating as an alligator, the bit in a hotel where we see lots of couples shagging (ooh, how edgy!) and the exchange between Braff and a police officer who likes to swear a lot and who likes to show off his gun.

And this brings me to another problem. The film tries so hard to be hip – the swearing and the sex – but it just doesn't work. And I'm someone who gets a kick out of profanity and sleaze. But here it's just thrown in for no reason. And although I can easily enjoy gratuitous sex and swearing, here it left me completely unmoved.

And for a film that tries so hard to defy conventions it doesn't half end up being conventional. Boy and girl fall in love; boy goes to leave; couple say goodbye at airport; boy gets off plane and surprises girl; couple kiss – the end. This is your standard boring romantic comedy with retard jokes thrown in in a failed attempt to differentiate it from all the other meaningless fluff out there.

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  1. You're a harsh, harsh man, but this line was just lovely:
    "portraying sadness as it really is – an external stillness with an internal chaos".
    Excellent :o)