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GARDEN STATE

First-time feature director Zach Braffís sardonic melodrama follows the odyssey of a young man returning home to small-town New Jersey to bury his mother after a nine-year absence. At first, Andrew Largeman (played by Braff, who resembles a young John Travolta) seems a zombie, unmoved at the funeral and distant from his father (an underused Ian Holm). It turns out heís been on a steady diet of Lithium since the age of nine. In LA, his acting career has produced one notable role, that of a mentally disabled quarterback in a made-for-TV movie; itís enough to win the respect of his former classmates back home and the attentions of a troubled waif (a bright-eyed Natalie Portman) with whom he creates a romantic spark. But itís Andrewís reunion with Mark (Peter Sarsgaard, who was so good in Shattered Glass), his childhood buddy, that provides the key to his redemption. Now a gravedigger, Mark escorts his old friend into the seamy depths of the New Jersey night. Braff (TVís Scrubs) demonstrates a weird visual flair, but his smug script collapses into contrivance before Andrew touches bottom. (109 minutes)

BY TOM MEEK

Issue Date: August 6 - 12, 2004
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