Garden State (Braff, 2004)

Like it’s enigmatic and irresistible heroine Sam (played with seamless candor by Natalie Portman), Garden State resonates a kindness and clarity rarely seen in our convoluted modern day Hollywood. Simply put, it’s refreshing, a high compliment considering the film is the writing and directing debut of a television actor, Scrubs star Zach Braff. After viewing this beautiful romance one can honestly smile at the prospects of love and honesty surviving a cruel world, or, at least the hope of such an experience. Garden State uses a seemingly simple character arc (Braff’s hero trumps his overly medicated life with a worthy dose of Portman’s charm) to explore what it means to communicate; with scorned parents, long lost friends, and past trauma’s that seem too vast to explore. Braff’s brilliant screenplay comes to life through the guidance of a slightly quirky and dead pan visual style and pitch perfect musical parallels ( a la Wes Anderson), but Garden State reaches masterpiece status with it’s moments of silence, painful glimpses into vibrant characters’ lives which enable a sense of humanity even during the most artificial scenes. And then there’s Natalie Portman, who’s Sam, for my money, is one of the great female performances of all time. Her mere presence unseats every character she comes in contact with, bringing out the honesty in each while keeping her own vulnerability close. Sam has a wisdom beyond her years, yet it never strays from her youthful exuberance for life. Like all the great movie characters out there, words can’t quite describe why Sam breaks through the screen and into your heart, but it’s wonderful knowing she’ll always be there to smile you through the pain.

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