Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Garden State

Natalie Portman and Zach Braff in Garden State. Posted by Hello

I went to see Zach Braff's Garden State this evening at the Boulder Theatre (same place I saw the Warren Miller ski movie just a couple of weeks ago). I got there late, but just in time for the start of the film, which was only $6. And I was welcomed with veggie chili or chicken gumbo and an open bar. What could be better in a movie theatre! And even though I've heard nothing but great things about the movie, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

Braff's much-heralded indie film reminded me of Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation. Both are talky, slow and intimate. Garden State is hilarious, random and moving; Lost in Translation is quiet, lonely and subtly romantic. Both movies are intimate portraits of just a few characters. They both admit that life is random, but full of fate and mystery -- the "infinite abyss" as Braff calls it. They both recognize the shallowness of glamour and fame, and how much more valuable it is to find real love and a sense of place, no matter where one may actually be.

As human beings (or maybe just as Americans) we are all self-involved enough to believe that our one, single life is important. These small movies make the most of that belief. Our lives, our loves and our choices matter, according to these filmmakers. When we leave the theatre, no matter how boring and routine our day was, we believe in our innate greatness and beauty. We believe that magic might lurk around the next corner: we might go to a doctor's appointment or take an anonymous business trip to Tokyo and find the love of our life. We might suddenly decide to let go of lives that weren't going in desired directions and bravely pursue our real dreams. And we might find that we were wearing our real dreams all along like Dorothy's ruby slippers; we need only click our heels to realize that we were always standing in them in the first place.

The wonder of "small" movies such as Garden State and Lost in Translation is their ability to distill simple truths into broad statements about humanity. Natalie Portman's Sam in Garden State chatters like a valley girl; but she buries her umpteenth dead hamster with wisdom beyond her years. She's able to shed tears for Zach Braff's Large with ease, something Large wishes he could do. He falls in love with her open heart and spontaneous nature; she falls in love with his vulnerability and honesty. They are strangers who instantly know each other, not unlike Scarlett Johanssen and Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. Neither movie uses sex to make its point, and that's what makes them both so romantic and delicate.

Both movies explore the notion that there is someone for everyone. And after you watch them, you remember that some people immediately feel like home, while others never do. It's that feeling that makes you believe in fate and destiny, in soul mates and karma. That some people should get married one week after meeting and others should finally break up already. And it's that feeling, rare as it is, that gives life depth and light and hope.

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