by Susan Starr and Kevin Kocur
“Garden State” is a wonderfully surreal movie. From a funeral featuring a woman with a pronounced Jersey accent singing “Three Times A Lady” to a rain-soaked trip through the wilds of suburban New Jersey, the movie has scenes that look bizarre but feel real.
Zach Braff wrote, directed and starred in the movie. He plays Andrew Largeman, who has returned to New Jersey for his mother’s funeral. “Large” is an aspiring actor who lives in LA. He is so emotionally stunted that he is only offered mentally disabled roles. When he returns home, he goes off all his meds and has to deal with old family trauma. Andrew’s old friends are mostly aimless, stoner losers. The movie almost painfully captures a sort of suburban anomie where it seems like there is nothing to look forward to but the possibility of getting laid or getting high. This is especially true of Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), Andrew’s grave digging friend.
Andrew wanders around his hometown, riding a motorcycle/sidecar left to him by his grandfather, and going along with whatever happens to him. At a visit to the doctor he meets Sam (Natalie Portman). She is a motor-mouthed, oddball person that in real life you would either really love or really hate. The dialogue between Sam and Andrew made me really believe they were falling in love. Sam has a rather rude line about what she thinks of people who ride in sidecars (“If you ride in the sidecar that makes you someone’s bitch”) which made me laugh as I thought of Kevin riding in a sidecar for the Minnesota 1000.
The imagery used in the movie is very effective, the dialogue is smart and realistic and the acting is wonderful. The soundtrack was great!
Good movies are harder to write reviews for then bad ones. Really bad/stinker films practically write their own review. That being said, the timing for this review couldn’t be better. The bike featured in “Garden State” is a Russian sidecar rig and I had spent part of the weekend in a Russian sidecar rig. Coincidence? Probably. But I enjoyed this film almost as much as I enjoyed riding around in the hack.
OK, so I admit it: it’s hard for me not to like Zach Braff. I mean the guy writes, directs and stars in his own movie and insists that the main character ride a motorcycle! And not just any bike, but a Russian-built Dnepr with sidecar. Dnepr owners already know that these bikes can be a wee bit tempermental, but a fun and capable ride all the same. So it was no shock to me that the DVD extras featuring the bikes (two matching hacks were used for filming) mentioned that they almost never seemed to start on cue. Of course they also mention that the total budget for two motorcycles with sidecars was something like $5000. I guess you do get what you pay for. None the less, if you’re a fan of Russian Iron you’ll appreciate the many shots of the Dnepr throughout the film—sometimes ridden three up! Although I really had to laugh at Zach’s character getting popped by The Man for doing 82 MPH in a 25 zone. 82 on a Russian hack?! Perhaps the cop who clocked “205 Tilley” made a cameo appearance here….
The only other comment I will make regards the “non-DOT approved” head gear worn. Large wears a beanie-type helmet, Mark opts for something that resembles a BMX helmet and Sam is wearing a foam helmet that reminds me of something that might be worn by passengers on the “wheelbase-challenged” bus. Not meaning to sound like a Safetycrat here, but C’mon people! Obviously if they’re going for a visual pun it’s lost on me. It should also be noted that the movie’s R rating is largely due to strong language. Don’t have this one cranked up when the kiddies are around!
Trivia time: Before filming, Zach Braff did have to take motorcycle riding lessons in the dead of winter in Queens, NY. He did all of his own riding in “Garden State” and his character on “Scrubs” rides a scooter in nearly every episode. Perhaps the Bike Bug has bitten? All of the songs featured in the movie were handpicked by Braff. The tombstones in the pet cemetery were made by the cast and crew, and feature their own deceased pets’ names.