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Garden State is a 2004 film written, directed by, and starring, Zach Braff, with Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard and co-starring Sir Ian Holm. The film centers on Andrew Largeman (Braff), a 26-year-old actor/waiter who returns to his hometown in New Jerseymarker after his mother dies. The title alludes both to the nickname for New Jersey, and to lines from Andrew Marvell's poem "The Garden" ("Such was that happy garden-state,/ While man there walked without a mate").

It was filmed over 25 days in April and May 2003 and released on July 28, 2004. The main setting and primary shooting location was New Jerseymarker. It was an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival. The film won Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards. The film contains many allusions to the similar coming of age film The Graduate (1967), most notably the opening airplane scene that both pictures share.

Garden State was well-received, and is considered a major success for Scrubs actor Zach Braff, as it was his feature film debut as a director. Lacking the publicity machine of most mainstream Hollywood films, it generated a devoted fan base from people who read and responded to Braff's blog on the film's official site. Fans drove hours to see the film and saw it repeatedly in theaters. The film also spawned a popular soundtrack for which Braff, who picked the music himself, won a Grammy award.


Andrew Largeman (Braff) wakes up from a dream, in which he apathetically sits on a crashing plane, to a telephone message from his father (Holm), telling Andrew that he needs to return home because his mother has just died.

Andrew leaves Los Angelesmarker and returns home to New Jerseymarker to attend the funeral. He recognizes the gravediggers as old friends Mark (Sarsgaard) and Dave (Alex Burns), who invite him to a party that night at the house of an old friend of theirs, Jesse (Armando Riesco). After smoking marijuana, he takes ecstasy at the party but remains detached. He is impressed by the abundant usage of drugs, but this is the last time he's seen taking any. At home, Andrew has his father book a doctor's appointment for headaches he's been having.

The morning after the party, Andrew proceeds to the appointment. In the waiting room, he meets a girl named Sam (Portman), who is a pathological liar. She later explains that most times she doesn't know why she lies and will always admit them afterward. In Andrew's meeting with his doctor (Ron Leibman), it's revealed that Andrew has been on lithium and other mood stabilizers, as well as antidepressants, for his entire adult life, but has stopped taking them. He also says that his father, who is also his psychiatrist, put him on the medications in the first place. Andrew finds Sam outside of the office, eventually offering her a ride home. Sam invites him into her house, and he meets her mother, who inadvertently reveals that Sam is an epileptic. During the visit, Andrew and Sam share a moment in which she explains her habit of occasionally making random motions and sounds, to fulfill her desire of doing something "completely original" that "no one else has ever done before". They then go outside to bury Sam's recently deceased pet hamster Jelly, upon which Andrew tells Sam of his mother's death and Sam tearfully eulogizes her hamster. After returning home, Andrew's father confronts him and is insistent that they have a talk before Andrew leaves town.

In the next scene, Andrew and Jesse sit in the cemetery as Mark digs another grave. Jesse idly describes how their town is "messed up" because of prevalent drug use and compares it to Brave New World, which he claims is by "Aldous Huxtable". Meanwhile, Andrew watches in shock as Mark uncaringly steals jewelry from the corpse he's burying.

Andrew then returns to Sam's house, and the two spend the rest of the day together, joining his friends later. Andrew tells her that when he was nine years old he pushed his mother in frustration, knocking her over a broken dishwasher in an accident that left her paraplegic; he says that his father blames him for his wife's paralysis and put him on his medications to "protect him" from the anger he supposedly harbors. Sam listens non-judgmentally, and Andrew subsequently admits his feelings for her.

The next day, Mark tells Andrew that he needs help "tracking down" a going-away present for him. Sam, Andrew, and Mark spend the day tracking the present down, ending in a quarry in Newarkmarker where Mark talks to junkyard owner named Albert (Denis O'Hare), who is employed with his wife Faye to prevent the construction of a shopping mall in the area, which is disputed due to the discovery of a rare subterranean chasm (referred to as the "infinite abyss") beneath the quarry. The three visitors discuss the reasons for which Albert and Faye chose to live there. Albert explains that living there and exploring the abyss is "doing something that's completely unique, that's never been done before", mirroring the earlier speech by Sam. Finally, Albert explains that what actually matters is his family, the camera right afterwards showing the listening Sam and Andrew. Andrew is inspired by the conversation, and outside in the rain, he climbs atop a derelict crane and screams therapeutically into the abyss, soon joined by Sam and Mark. He and Sam then share their first kiss.

When Mark and Andrew look at the gift later on, it turns out to be Andrew's mother's favorite pendant, one of the items Mark had stolen from a grave and sold, and subsequently relocated. Andrew eventually approaches his father for the talk the father had suggested, in which he says he was not to blame for his mother's accident and that, from now on, he will live his life without medication. He nevertheless forgives his father and says he wants to build a better relationship with him.

The morning after, Andrew says his goodbyes to Sam at the airport, even while she begs him not to leave. He acknowledges that she has changed his life but that he still has to fix his problems in LA before continuing the relationship.

In the final scene, we see Sam crying in a telephone booth just before Andrew unexpectedly returns, saying that "he doesn't want to waste any more of his life without her in it." Andrew wonders what is to be done next, and the two passionately kiss as "Let Go" by Frou Frou plays.


The protagonist's father has been "protecting" him from his own feelings with pills, namely lithium, which are seen "as the symbolic soul-destroying enemy".Holden, Stephen. "Film Review; First Go Cold Turkey, Then Go to Cold Jersey." New York Times 28 July 2004. 17 March 2008 />

Zach Braff describes the themes of the movie as "love, for lack of a better term. And it's a movie about awakening. It's a movie about taking action. It's a movie about how life is short, go for it now. My character says, 'I'm 26 years old, and I've spent my whole life waiting for something else to start. Now I realize that this is all there is, and I'm going to try to live my life like that'".Braff, Zach. "The Scrubs Star Gets Hollywood (and Natalie Portman's) Attention With Garden State." By Caroline Howard. People 28 July 2004. 17 March 2008 /,,673026_2,00.html> "I have this theory that your body goes through puberty in its teens, and the mind goes through puberty in your twenties," he says. "[Andrew] is dealing with issues that you are going through all the time going into your thirties. He's lost and lonesome, which is something I definitely felt in my twenties".Braff, Zach. "Garden State: Zach Braff is Lost in Jersey." By E.C Thomas. Glide Magazine 10 August 2004. 17 March 2008 />


  • Zach Braff as Andrew Largeman - A depressed, heavily-medicated young actor who also waits tables for a Vietnamesemarker restaurant. When he was nine years old he accidentally paralyzed his mother by pushing her over a dishwasher door. He hasn't cried or felt any significant emotions for several years, mainly as a result of the medication he's been plied with by his estranged father.
  • Natalie Portman as Sam - An eccentric epileptic and compulsive liar, who openly admits her casual deception and frequently ponders what makes her do it. She lives with her equally peculiar mother and adopted African sibling, Titembay.
  • Peter Sarsgaard as Mark - An old school friend of Andrew's, now working as a grave-digger. He still lives with his mother and smokes marijuana, frequently attending wild parties; he also makes considerable amounts of money by stealing jewelry from the people he buries and exploiting loopholes in store return policies.
  • Ian Holm as Gideon Largeman - Andrew's father and professional psychiatrist, whose passive demeanor hides a deep-seated rage. He still blames Andrew for his late wife's paralysis and has thus kept him in a lithium-induced haze ever since.
  • Armando Riesco as Jesse - Another school friend of Mark and Andrew's who has made a fortune and bought a mansion on money he has earned from inventing a silent alternative to Velcro fabric.
  • Jean Smart as Carol - Mark's mother, a recovering alcholic, who sees a wealth of potential in her son.
  • Jackie Hoffman as Sylvia Largeman - Andrew's aunt, who sings Lionel Richie's "Three Times a Lady" at her sister-in-law's funeral.
  • Method Man as Diego - A bellhop at a luxury hotel who hosts peeping sessions of various hotel rooms.
  • Alex Burns as Dave - Another old school friend who now works as a grave-digger with Mark.
  • Ron Liebman as Dr. Cohen - A neurologist whom Andrew visits at the beginning of the film.
  • Denis O'Hare in a cameo appearance as Albert, one of the "guardians of the abyss".
  • Jim Parsons as Tim - An old acquaintance of Mark and Andrew, who is also the boyfriend of Mark's mother. Works at Medieval Times as a knight and speaks Klingon.


Garden State was Braff’s feature directing and writing debut. The title of the film was originally intended to be Large's Ark, in reference to Braff's character (note that Albert mentions his own ark in the movie), but he changed it because no one understood what it meant. Garden State was filmed on a budget of $2.5 million. Most of the film was shot on location in Braff's hometown of South Orangemarker, New Jerseymarker, with filming taking place at Cranfordmarker, Livingstonmarker, Maplewoodmarker, Newarkmarker, South Orangemarker, Tenaflymarker and Wallingtonmarker. Although the majority of the filming was done in New Jersey, filming also took place in New York Citymarker and Los Angelesmarker.

Braff has cited such films as Harold and Maude, Woody Allen films (specifically Annie Hall and Manhattan), and the films of Alexander Payne as influences on Garden State. Parallels have also been drawn between Braff's film and Ted Demme's Beautiful Girls (1996). Braff wrote the script during his college years when Beautiful Girls was in theatres, and his first choice for the love interest was Natalie Portman, who plays a similar role in Demme's film.Internet Movie Database/>

The film is partly autobiographical, depicting Braff's own emotions and mentality while he was writing the screenplay. He described that "When I wrote Garden State, I was completely depressed, waiting tables and lonesome as I've ever been in my life. The script was a way for me to articulate what I was feeling; alone, isolated, 'a dime a dozen' and homesick for a place that didn't even exist."


The music that accompanied the film was hand-picked by Zach Braff. Commenting on the selections, Braff said that "Essentially, I made a mix CD with all of the music that I felt was scoring my life at the time I was writing the screenplay." Braff used many artists he used in other works, including his friend Joshua Radin.

Braff accepted a Grammy Award in 2005 for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. The film's trailer won an award for best music at the Golden Trailer Awards. The Broadcast Film Critics Association nominated it for best soundtrack.


The film was first screened on January 16, 2004, at the Sundance Film Festival where it was purchased in a joint venture by Fox Searchlight Pictures and Miramax for USD $5 million, double the film's budget. Fox Searchlight Pictures president Peter Rice said of the film, "Having enjoyed the film immensely, we look forward to working with Miramax to bring Garden State to audiences worldwide." From March until mid July, it screened at other various film festivals until it received a limited release on July 28 in North America. It became only the fourth non-documentary feature to top the chart that year, as calculated by per screen average, since Memorial Day weekend. Stephen Gilula, president of distribution at Fox Searchlight, attributed the film's gradual success to word of mouth and a publicity tour by Braff leading up to the film's theatrical debut. Gilula said, "Zach [Braff] had a cross-country tour, and we [organized] word of mouth screenings, where we had to turn people away. Zach did Q&As following [the screenings]." From late 2004 through mid 2005, Garden State was shown at more festivals and was released in over 30 countries. Despite having a limited release in all its markets, the film was able to gather $35.8 million at the worldwide box office, of which about $26.7 million came from North America.

Garden State has an 87 percent "freshness" rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website.


In addition to being a nominee for the Grand Jury prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, Braff received Best New Director from the Chicago Film Critics Association, the Florida Film Critics Circle's Pauline Kael Breakout Award, Best Debut Director award from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures and Breakout of the Year from the Phoenix Film Critics Society.


After its limited release in theaters, the film gained more popularity during its DVD release on December 28, 2004, which includes commentaries, deleted scenes and featurettes.


  1. Garden State production notes
  4. Garden State - Movie Reviews, Trailers, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes

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