'Generation X' makes way for 'Generation Y, Why, Why!?' in the whip-smart, angst-ridden comedy Garden State. As well as making an assured directorial debut, Zach Braff from TV's Scrubs wrote and stars in this tale of a jobbing Hollywood actor rudely awakened from a lithium haze to attend his mother's funeral in New Jersey. While it may sound like a depressing anti-drugs video, in Braff's hands it's a witty, wacky, and wonderful trip through the minefield of being twenty-something.
Childhood trauma lurks somewhere in Andrew 'Large' Largeman's (Zach Braff) past, only he's too numbed by antidepressants to deal with it. When his father (Ian Holm) calls to say that his mother has died, he finally resolves to go cold turkey and confront his pain. Of course arriving home is like a slap in the face but a chance encounter with compulsive liar Sam (Natalie Portman) turns out to be a bigger high than anything he could get on prescription.
"ONE OF THE FUNNIEST COMEDIES FOR AGES"
What might have been a labour in picking bellybutton fluff is instead wickedly funny, owing mainly to Braff's tendency for self-deprecating humour - like waking up after a party with 'BALLS' scrawled on his forehead, or his encounter with a masturbating dog. He also negotiates the balance of hilarity and heartbreak with impressive poise, as in a scene where a mourner belts out a howling rendition of Lionel Ritchie's Three Times A Lady at Mrs Largeman's funeral.
But as silly as it gets, Large's plight always rings true. Braff makes an appealing everyman and conveys inertia without merging into the background. Portman offers a spirited counterpoint although Sam's relentless kookiness signals the one contrivance in an otherwise keenly observed script (her peculiar antics can feel like a substitution for genuine character). Even so, Garden State remains one of the funniest comedies to come around for ages. A flowering achievement.