A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie has extensive substance abuse. Characters smoke, drink, and take a lot of drugs. There are brief but explicit sex scenes and many sexual references, including a young man who is unhappy about his mother's affair with a younger man. Characters use very strong language and engage in risky and foolish behavior. There is a discussion of suicide and mental illness. One character is a thief. A strength of the movie is its positive portrayal of a person with a disability.
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What's the story?
In GARDEN STATE, Andrew Largeman (director/writer Zach Braff) returns home to New Jersey for his mother's funeral. Andrew's psychiatrist father has prescribed powerful psychotropic medication for him since he was a child. But Largeman leaves all of his medications behind when he goes home. He has not really felt anything in a long time, and this may be the time to begin to try. Largeman is trying to make it as an actor in Los Angeles. He had a prominent role, but still supports himself as a waiter. In New Jersey, he catches up with high school friends including gravedigger Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), along with a cop, and the investor of "noiseless Velcro," who has tons of money but is just as lost as the others. Waiting to see a doctor about his headaches, Largeman meets Sam (Natalie Portman), who manages to give the typical "quirky romantic interest who shows up to give the lead a reason to want and hope for more out of life" role a genuine, effervescent, and endearing -- well, quirkiness.
Is it any good?
While there are some clumsy detours, Garden State is filled with outstanding performances and moments of great authenticity, sensitivity, and heart. Going home again helps Largeman understand who he is and who he wants to be. What is just as enriching is seeing how this movie is helping writer/director/star Braff learn who he is and wants to be. A hungover breakfast with Mark, his mother (Jean Smart), and a young man in a suit of armor is a small masterpiece of acting. And a scene near the end in an ark-like structure at the bottom of a canyon is deliriously but matter-of-factly audacious.
Braff's control of tone, mastery of image and feel for creating moments of moments of great sweetness and insight, and his willingness to hold back and not tell us everything about his characters to make them feel like they exist beyond what we see on screen are the qualities of a great film-maker. He makes us want to follow Largeman's journey as a man and continue with him on his own journey as a film-maker.
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