Peter Sarsgaard, Natalie Portman and Zach Braff
get wet in "Garden State," but it's ticketbuyers who
really get hosed. ©2004 Fox Searchlight Pictures

Garden State

(Reviewed June 18, 2004, by James Dawson)

Before this movie started, I leaned over and said to The Greatest Girl Who Ever Lived, "I hope this doesn't turn out to be one of those cheap, stupid, 'indie'-cliche movies full of quirky, eccentric characters doing what are supposed to be charmingly 'wacky' things."

Can you say "jinx?"

"Garden State" is a textbook example of that variety of awfulness. It was written and directed by sitcom actor Zach Braff, who apparently has spent enough time in Hollywood to develop a real talent for typing remarkably unfunny junk that's supposed to pass for comedy. People in this movie keep saying and doing things that you have the vague impression are meant to be amusing, but absolutely nothing works.

As for the cast of quirksters, "Garden State" has everyone from a grave-robbing pothead to a silent-velcro inventor who golf carts around his unfurnished mansion to a Medieval Times knight who eats breakfast in full armor. All of them are from the land of "trying way too hard."

Braff also plays the movie's lead, with an utterly colorless flatness that can't be excused by the fact that he is assaying the role of a Paxil-Zoloft-'n'-all-the-rest pill-popper who has decided to go off his medication. Imagine a younger, dumber version of Ray Romano, hanging out and doping with a bizarre bunch of New Jersey slackers for two hours while on a trip home for his mother's funeral. Is your flesh crawling yet?

The indescribably lovely Natalie Portman thoroughly wastes her talents (what's new?) as his kooky, zany soulmate, the kind of girl who makes any female who got higher than a "D" average in school embarrassed for her sex. She's perky! She's silly! Her house is full of hamster habitrails, and she likes to do totally special things like making odd sounds when she doesn't know what to say! She played a crocodile in an ice show!

Feeling your lunch come up yet? No? Then just wait until the movie's final act, which is so pathetically cloying and hackneyed and trite that I wish I could spoil it just to make fun of it more.

One thing you can say for "Garden State," though, is that it wears its lousiness on its sleeve. The poster for the movie depicts the single most embarrassingly terrible scene in the entire flick (which is saying a lot): three of the cast members standing on a crane and screaming at the top of their lungs, the way characters in these sorts of movies commonly do when they need cathartic release from their Generation-echhh angst.

You'll feel like screaming, too. Screaming at the cashier for your money back.

Back Row Reviews Grade: F

Note: This unwatchable piece of shit went on to become number four on my "Worst of 2004" list, behind "Without a Paddle" (for which my review initially consisted of only a photo of a toilet full of muddy excrement, before I removed it in the interest of good taste), "Little Black Book" and "Jersey Girl." Click the title links to those reviews, if you want to see a critic in full blowtorch mode.