March 09, 2008

Garden State

Garden State is a film that everyone wants to hate- there are lots of 'really' and 'like' in it- too many for my comfort. The characters are self referential and not profound- they are awkward and need to make unique moments in human history in order to reassure themselves. They are self important but meandering in the morass of life in the twenties- they are filled with the angst of lives lived in comfort without real problems. But the film still charms. Maybe its Zach Braff the lead who manages to act an impassive mid-twenties young man with utter conviction, maybe its Natalie Portman whose performance in this film puts her yet again at the height of her proffession as an actress, maybe its a wry cast of supporting characters, maybe its Braff's meandering direction- he is filled with the incidental in life- maybe as well its his writing which is equally zany and all over the place. Maybe its the fact that the film knows that it is incidental- that 'real life tragedy' is more important than other things- or that its worth enjoying life to the full no matter what your position. Garden State isn't a major film but it defines the very essence of whimsy.

Nowhere is this clearer than Sam, the character that Portman plays and the main love interest of the main character- Andrew Largeman. Sam is a whimsical character in her very essence. The pretty girl who falls in love with a man that missed a kind of normal kid things: she is willing to sit on the steps with him whilst everyone else goes off leaving them alone. She wants to be original- and so she dances and does a silly noise when she feels too conventional. There is a sense of fun about her- and Portman captures a girlishness which is both appealing, vivacious and also laced with a kind of compassion. She could be cruel- but only through carelessness and ignorance of convention- she would not hurt deliberately and has no calculation in her personality. She naively asks questions because she does want the answers: at one point Braff's character says that she is like a 'little detective'. She gets to the bottom of his character more than anyone of his original friends do, partly because her naivety is laced with compassion.

Compassion is the key to this film- whimsy is made up of it- whimsical comedy is based on having compassion and affection for the characters. Part of the reason that Garden State works as opposed to being irritating is that all the characters are portrayed with an understated affection. Less is said than often could be said and conversations are closed off rather than opening out to revelation. When revelation does come the film becomes clumsy- it was not meant to string out such grand narratives but it conveys incidental detail and the growth of a love, that is not spoken because the characters feeling it do not have the articulacy, but is still very real and based on mutual affection and regard. There isn't so much a meet cute in this movie as a meeting followed by a growth of cuteness.

Cuteness saturates this film- sometimes it irritates but often it charms. Its insubstantial but its basic good naturedness, affection for its characters and the charm of its performers manage to make it a minor, but still fun, film. This is life acted out and not observed- there is a great scene about being disconnected at a party, there are great little moments but also there are mawkish ones which don't work. Its a piece which works if you see it for what it is: a small vignette that means nothing, but is fun and lit up by some good performances. A little slice of indie fun and games amidst the grimness of life.


Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

One for the red-blooded male to miss then, Tiberius?

stacy said...

let's be honest here, you just have a crush on natalie portman. i guess if zach braff was better looking, i may have had a more favorable view of the movie as well.

Gracchi said...

Ha ha ha Stacy! Perhaps the fact I fancy Natalie Portman meant my view changed- having said that this is a pretty lukewarm review for me- its a pretty slight piece, but its not Rambo awful! :)

Scott Nehring said...

"Cuteness saturates this film- sometimes it irritates but often it charms."

No, it just irritates.

I have to part with you on this one. As timid as you are with this film, I still have to say you're giving this one way too much credit. This one is self-aware and grating.