Andrew returns to his hometown for the funeral of his mother, a journey that reconnects him with past friends. The trip coincides with his decision to stop taking his powerful antidepressants. A chance meeting with Sam - a girl also suffering from various maladies - opens up the possibility of rekindling emotional attachments, confronting his psychologist father, and perhaps beginning a new life.
This small, smart, off-kilter comedy has the cheek to present itself as "The Graduate 2004," although its affectionate subversion of a popular classic also stamps it as "The Anti-Graduate 2004." From its story of the waking up of an emotionally numbed young man (Zach Braff) to its editorial use of a contemporary pop soundtrack, the movie obsessively refers to that 1967 generational landmark. The New Jersey suburban landscape to which Andrew, Mr. Braff's 26-year-old alter ego, returns from self-imposed exile in Los Angeles is a universe apart from the lotus land where he has lived in for the last nine years in a chemical stupor. Because "The Graduate" established the stock vision of suburban alienation that has persisted through "American Beauty" and beyond, you expect "Garden State" to uphold the cliché. Instead, it allows Andrew to discover some nuggets of spiritual gold in the East Coast wasteland he dreaded revisiting. As precocious filmmaking debuts tend to be, "Garden State'' is too self-conscious by half, but its struggle to revitalize a cliché by turning it inside out is a worthy one. — Stephen Holden
2004-07-28 | Stephen Holden | Read the New York Times Review of Garden State