Comfortable and Furious

Garden State

Kill Zach Braff

Garden State literally made my skin crawl. I hated it as much as I’ve hated anything all year, and only an unexpected Adam Sandler film festival will keep it off my Zach Braff. There were more vile characters to be sure, but as he is the driving force behind this unholy mess, I must single him out as the first individual I would line up to be shot. I’m not even sure I can finish this review, as I am still reeling from my unexpected near stroke. I had my doubts going in, but nothing prepared me for the extent of my rage, depression, and the desire to kill half the audience for bursting into applause at the film’s conclusion. Rather than submit to my bloodlust, however, all I could muster was a snotty “booooo!” which for me, I might add, was a first. Think about that for a moment: I’ve sat through The Master of Disguise, Men in Black II, My Boss’s Daughter, and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, and this is the only time I have actually booed. And even now, no part of me wishes to apologize for it.

What went wrong, you ask? Let’s begin with a common mistake, at least for budding screenwriters and first-time filmmakers — “patchwork quirkiness.” You know the drill: rather than tell a story or develop interesting characters, the filmmaker throws together dozens of scenes that make no sense within the context of the film, largely because they were conceived by a young prick who collected random thoughts in a dog-eared notebook over several years in the hope that one day his bloated smattering of paper would find a buyer. Because these “thoughts” were jotted down over a long period of time, they don’t really belong to a single movie, but simply must be included in a debut feature because they’re “too cool” to remain behind. For Garden State, these scenes are so obvious as to act as a 2X4 to the skull.

There’s the nutty relative who stitches together a shirt that is an exact match for the upstairs bedroom’s wallpaper. There is the zany, afflicted (in this case, epilepsy) free-spirit (Natalie Portman) who lives in a house filled to the brim with hamster cages, who simply must have a hamster cemetery in the backyard (no points for guessing that we have to endure a hamster funeral). And then we have the eccentric family who live in an abandoned boat. Or the guy who collects Desert Storm trading cards, and laments the fact that his Wolf Blitzer has been stolen. And yes, there’s a shot of a dog humping the hero’s leg in a hospital waiting room.

And what about when our hero wakes up after a night of drug use and sees a knight walking through the kitchen, only to discover that it’s a friend of a friend who works at Medieval Times (are they really allowed to wear their costumes — especially a suit of armor — home at night)? Or the guy who lives in an isolated mansion because he made a fortune from inventing “silent velcro?” Or the flaming crossbow game? Or the horrifically unnatural banter that takes place as our hero and his girl ride on a motorcycle with a sidecar? Or that the zany chick wears a funky helmet because of her seizures? Or that she’s a pathological liar who is so wild that she’ll tap dance in front of a roaring fireplace, or perform a “random act of originality” (which means standing in place while flailing one’s arms and making animal noises) in order to do penance for an unoriginal act or statement? Or the loser with a cheesy moustache who never stops discussing pyramid schemes? Or the black brother of a white sister who dusts for fingerprints in order to find out who pissed on his video game system?

Yes, the list is long, and I won’t even attempt to cover it all. These people aren’t even remotely real; they are instead the annoying, ridiculous, cloying creations of a smug screenwriter. Not one line of dialogue rings true, and, despite my misanthropy, I can promise you that I’ll never actually meet assholes this unappealing. They dare me not to like them, but Christ fucking almighty they made it easy for me, acting as vessels for some of the most self-aware situations ever committed to celluloid. I guess it could have been interesting — Andrew Largeman (Braff) returns home after his mother dies in the bathtub and there tries to piece together his life — but it goes no further than, “Gee,

I think I’ll get off these medications, face my father, and fall in love after four days with a chick who would inspire a sane man to slit her fucking throat.” Andrew, you see, long ago pushed his mother over the broken door of a dishwasher, and she became paralyzed. Living in a wheelchair made her even nuttier, Andrew was sent to boarding school, and he lived in a Zoloft-inspired haze as an actor in Hollywood. His only notable role has been that of a retarded quarterback in some cheesy TV movie, which should have been funny, but was instead one of a hundred lines that crashed and burned. Even a casual reference to Life Goes On character Corky couldn’t save it. When even the retarded fail to inspire my sweaty, hysterical cackles, a film is truly beyond all hope.

But again, what I object to most is the tone. It happily darts from here to there with nonsense, then asks us to sniffle with sentimentality at the site of a father/son chat, or a troubled young man falling in love. Speaking of crying, did I mention that Portman’s character carries a Dixie cup so that she can capture Andrew’s tears when he finally cries? Who the fuck would ever do something so bizarre and not expect to be hauled off to the loony bin? And has there ever been a quality film that featured two characters having a conversation in a tub while fully clothed?

And I’ll be fucked in the ass if I didn’t see the main characters enter a room in slow motion while some catchy song played on the soundtrack. Hasn’t this cliche been retired by now? What is it supposed to convey, anyway? That what we’re about to see is so goddamn important that it shouldn’t be rushed? Fuck man, I don’t know where else I can go with this. I was so bored and revolted that only a temporary madness kept me in my seat. I felt dirty, violated, and fucked with, for is there anything more dishonest and impossible to endure than an empty vanity project masquerading as “indie art?” I’m numb and so fucking ready for bed. Perhaps by morning I’ll have forgotten it all.