There's a problem an actor faces that is similar to tyecasting but much worse, it's from the audience point of view and could be termed character association. I'm sure there's a special term for it in Hollywood, but just to explain, it's when an actor plays a character so well or for so long that they become that character to the audience.
For me, and I'm sure for many other Scrubs fans, this happened with JD...I mean Zach Braff.
So a big hurdle he faced with me in his writing and directorial debut Garden State was showing that he could make me forget JD and pull me into his new character.
MovieGarden State is an extremely good film that shows Braff has as much talent for behind the camera as he does in front.
There are the JD character traits throughout the film, but they aren't overpowering. So although you could say that he managed to escape the Scrubs character, there were still moments where you recognised he was there.
This is not JD though. Largeman is a man with a past that has affected his whole life to date. When he as a child something happened that resulted in his parents sending him off to boarding school and putting him on medication aplenty. For most of his life he's been drugged and numb to life.
When his mother dies his father, whom he doesn't seem to have spoken to in years, asks him to come home. When he does he meets his old friends, confronts his father and his past, and meets someone new, someone who makes him understand that it might just be okay to feel.
That someone is Sam played by Natalie Portman, and she is stunning. I've seen her give a strong performance in Closer (Filmstalker review), but here she's utterly convincing and believable. Bringing life to a character and making her seem real and genuine in every way. There are moments when her excitement about something captures your imagination and you can feel yourself getting just as excited as her. This is perhaps her best performance I've seen to date, and so filled with emotion.
Braff struggles to keep up with her, although with the state of mind of his character there's no need to. He's good, although at times his speeches can seem lacking a little passion and some of his delivery lifeless, it's something that you associate with the character coming off of, or still being on, his medication.
Also starring is Peter Staarsged who gives another good performance. His stand off friendship with Largeman is well played, and despite all this time you can see that they are instantly great friends and back in the routine without much question.
There are lots of subtleties in these performances. They are often underplayed and played for real, which allows you to think within the film rather than be told a strict story. It also makes you believe in these characters and their situations, even through their slightly strange quirks and moments.
There are a few moments when the quirkiness in the tale is almost too much, but the story does pull you back in, and it's the story that's one of the best aspects of the film. It's simple but life affecting, and it looks at people's relationships with each other in friends, families, lovers, and even with themselves. Some of these moments are well written and make for a beautiful story, a great sign for the talent of Braff.
However there are a couple of areas that aren't well enough explored for me. I would have liked to have seen a little more interaction between Largeman and his father played by the superb Ian Holm, and that whole relationship fleshed out a little more because it is a fascinating circumstance.
The build up to his speech with his father is perhaps not as clear as it could have been, with some of his realisations and decisions seeming to come from nowhere. However you could argue that these are all internal issues to the character and that they have been building and being confirmed in his own mind throughout the film.
The film is really well shot and wonderfully framed, something that I think is particularly noticeable earlier on in the film but stays strong throughout. The cinematography is very good and it gives Braff another big tick for his direction and visualisation.
Set design is another area where there's a great deal of effort made. The internal locations and sets are fantastic and play a strong part of this film reflecting moods, moments and characters themselves.
All in all it's an excellent first outing for Braff and it does show that he has a lot to bring behind the camera as well as on the page. Portman gives a fantastic performance and the rest of the cast is strong and funny, as is the script. It's amusing, heartfelt and quite emotional, and in the end a lovely, if somewhat self reflective tale.
Presented: 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Well filmed, natural and strong colours, some nice effects achieved with lighting.
Presented: Dolby Digital 5.1
Nothing particularly strong although some use is made for the odd effect away from the front speakers, but for the most part the sound comes from the front, no surprise really as this is a dialogue rich film.
Presented: Audio Commentary with Zach Braff and Natalie Portman, Audio Commentary with Zach Braff, Lawrence Sher, Myron Kerstein and Judy Becker, Deleted scenes and Audio Commentary for deleted
Audio Commentary with Zach Braff and Natalie Portman:
The first commentary is good, although Portman doesn't say that much she does provide some amusing and reflective moments. Braff tells us a lot about the filming and ties in with deleted scenes. You do get the sense that this is a personal story and that he's proud, if slightly wary of how it will be accepted. It's not the best commentary I've heard, but there's a fair bit of behind the scenes information, and insight into the film.
Audio Commentary with Zach Braff, Lawrence Sher (Cinematography), Myron Kerstein (Editing) and Judy Becker (Production Design):
Again Braff talks loads about the film, but he's very keen to bring in the people around him for the discussion to talk about all aspects of the film, which they do with a lot of enthusiasm. There's a lot to be had out of this second audio commentary, and that's not often the case. More reveals and more insights, oh and some laughs too.
Deleted Scenes and Audio Commentary for Deleted Scenes:
There's one scene that really sticks in my head here, and that
Excellent scene with Ian Holm, and some very pertinent scenes unlike most DVD's deleted scenes, the addition of a commentary track over the top is a wonderful touch. You can hear why these scenes were cut, or why they were liked, etc.
OverallThere's big wins with this DVD, because the film is superb, if a little odd in places, and the double audio commentaries give you a lot of insight into the making of the film as well as what inspired some of the scenes. Add in the deleted scenes with commentary and there's a whole lot more to be had, and I'm specifically talking about the scene of Holm portraying his despair at the passing of his wife.
It's a wonderful story with a good DVD offering, and from what I hear of Braff's offerings after this film, it should be judged alone.