A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Andrew Largeman, the hero of "Garden State," is almost catatonic when first we see him. He's flat on his back under an unwrinkled white sheet on a white bed in a white room with no other furnishings, except for an answering machine, which is recording a message from his father informing him that his mother has drowned in the bathtub. Andrew gets up and looks into his medicine cabinet, where every shelf is filled with neatly arranged rows of prescription drugs.
We learn in the following scenes that Andrew is a would-be actor (he played a retarded quarterback on a made-for-cable movie), works in a Vietnamese restaurant, has not been home to New Jersey in nine years and is overmedicated. When he leaves all the pills behind before flying home for the funeral, his life begins to budge again.
"Garden State" was written and directed by Zach Braff, who stars as Andrew. He has one of those faces, like David Schwimmer's, that seems congenitally dubious. He returns home to his father, Gideon (Ian Holm), who is very dry and distant, masking anger: Gideon is a psychiatrist who believes Andrew will never be well "until you forgive yourself for what you did to your mother." What Andrew did, in Gideon's mind, was to make the woman into a paraplegic by pushing her so that she fell over the door of a dishwasher. What Andrew believes is that he was a very small boy, the dishwasher had a broken latch, and his father is full of it.
Andrew's new life begins when he recognizes the gravediggers at his mother's funeral. These are high school buddies he left behind. Soon he's high on ecstasy and playing spin-the-bottle at a party, and not long after that he's unexpectedly in love. She is Sam (Natalie Portman), a local girl who is one of those creatures you sometimes find in the movies, a girl who is completely available, absolutely desirable and really likes you. Portman's success in creating this character is all the more impressive because we learn almost nothing about her, except that she's great to look at and has those positive attributes.