The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Garden State’

Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Garden State.”

The Movie: “Garden State”

Starring: Zach Braff, Peter Sarsgaard, Natalie Portman

Director: Zach Braff

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A quietly troubled young man returns home for his mother’s funeral after being estranged from his family for a decade.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 86 percent

Our take:

Brown: I don’t know how many times I’ve heard Froemming utter this sentence in our friendship: “I hate subtitles and Zach Braff.”

So naturally, I was going to pick a Zach Braff movie. Because I’m a bad friend. And after we dealt with the cockney British accents of “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” it was time we reviewed a movie again just because we’re sadists to each other.

Like any good Millennial, I had my time where I watched a lot of “Scrubs” on Comedy Central. Mostly because I was in college and it was the only decent thing on during the day. “Maury” never really did it for me. Later, it dawned on me that “Scrubs” was the “Family Guy” of live-action sitcoms, with the cutaway jokes and all. It had its moments, but I’ve moved on.

Then there’s “Garden State,” which I remember getting a lot of praise when it came out in 2004. I didn’t see it at the time and I’m only watching it now because I’m a dick to one of my best friends.

So while I steal jewelry off a dead person (this movie has a LOT of issues. We’ll get to that), give me your initial take, Froemming.

Froemming: (REDACTED) you, Brown.

I was livid watching this movie. This was the “hold my beer” moment of any time I ever wondered if I could despise Zach Braff any more than I already did. 

I remember when this came out. Hipster doofuses all around me praised it, because they love boring movies with self-centered protagonists who barely function in life. It also made The Shins a huge band in come circles, but because they are on this soundtrack, I will forever hate them.

So I sat down, turned this on and right away X-Ray on Amazon Prime informed me, before the beginning credits began to roll, that Braff is in every scene of this movie, so I hope you are never on life support Brown, because I will kick that plug right out of the hospital wall (I kid, kinda). 

Brown: Note to self: NEVER give you power of attorney. 

Froemming: I think we all know where I am going in this, so while I ponder how a movie made Natalie Portman this grating, why don’t you kick this off.

Brown: This movie starts on two creepy notes. 

The first: It’s a Miramax film. After reading Ronan Farrow’s “Catch and Kill,” this bugs me even more than it did before.

Second: The movie begins on a plane seemingly on its way to crashing. As there are people screaming and grabbing for the emergency air masks, except for Zach Braff. He is sitting there with the calm of a serial killer. I compared it to Steve Buscemi in “Con Air.”

But that’s just a dream that Braff’s character, struggling actor Andrew Largeman, is having. He’s woken up by a call from his dad, who struggles to tell his son that Andrew’s mother died after drowning in the bathtub. 

And Zach Braff just stares at the camera as this happens. Legit, the first six minutes of this movie is Zach Braff just staring and glooming at the camera. It’s like Jim Halpert in “The Office” without any of the comedy.

6be081d5-6af4-40dc-9e53-8859691dbf79Froemming: Braff wrote the character as being numb from so many medications to hide the fact he is a crappy actor, I bet. He spends most of this movie staring off into space or staring at people or whatever. Bella in “Twilight” emoted more than Andrew here. 

It also sort of sets up friction between Andrew and his father with this call. See, Andrew pushed his mother as a child, forever crippling her from the neck down, and (SPOILER) in the end he doesn’t feel bad about that because he blames the broken washing machine she fell on, cutting her down in her prime. So, never take responsibility for your actions, folks! 

*rubs temple* This movie is such a sack of crap. 

Brown: So I think this movie is dangerous. We’re jumping ahead here but screw it. 

So the movie posits that Andrew is taking an obscene amount of pills. Like, the entire medicine cabinet is nothing but prescription bottles. And while he’s back at home in New Jersey, he doesn’t take any of his medication and he decides to stop taking anything.

That is a TERRIBLE thing to tell an audience. So full transparency: I’m on antidepressants and have times where I think I should be reacting more to a situation. But I know all things considered, I’m better off.

You wanna get off medication, that’s fine. But talk to a doctor and ween yourself off first! Don’t go cold turkey. 

Froemming: Your lack to reacting to situations, based on this pick, has led me to believe you are a Patrick Bateman-esque sociopath.

Full disclosure: I too am on anti-anxiety and antidepressants. I had to be on them for getting through this movie.

You think Sam, later on, is his Tyler Durden — another personality in his brain now real to him due to him being off his meds?

Brown: I’d like to say yes because no one would want to hang out with Andrew voluntarily. But unlike Tyler Durden or, the example I wrote down, Mr. Robot, we actually see a home life for Sam so unless Andrew is having some hallucination (which is in play because he takes ecstasy in this movie), I think Sam is real.

Anyhow, Andrew’s mom is dead and at the funeral he’s just sulking by himself, staring at the crowd of people AND the camera, just looking to be asked if he’s OK to become the center of attention. Selfish prick.

And it’s there where he meets some old (presumably) school friends in Mark and Dave, who invite him to a house party that night. It’s a house party at Mark’s. He lives at home with his mom. These characters are in their mid-20s and are having house parties at Mark’s mom’s house…

Froemming: Were you as startled as I was by how young the girls looked compared to the guys during the spin-the-bottle scene? Was that at the request of the shady producer who financed this movie?

Also, the Mark having a party at his mom’s house, I don’t know, I have seen stuff like this when I was a teen going to older people house parties. Was it sad? Yes. But there was beer to take away the sadness.

Brown: If these characters were still in college, OK, I can accept that. But mid-20s, unless they’re all doctors — and judging by all the bongs and underaged girls, they are not — that screams of townie loser.

And it’s not like Andrew is any fun at this party. He takes ecstacy and we have one of those “artsy” shots where everything is moving fast around him and Andrew just sits on the couch. He had a girl nibbling on his ear, for crying out loud. 

Also, the partygoers wrote all over Andrew while he was passed out because we’re all (REDACTED) kids here, I guess.


Froemming: His friends are townie losers. There was nothing subtle about this. And I felt bad that a great actress like Jean Smart played Mark’s mom, who is sleeping with Sheldon from “Bong Bing Blam Theory.” Kowzingo!

Brown: Yeah, Sheldon is a knight at a dinner theater. And he speaks Klingon. I think Jim Parsons is getting typecast.

After a night of hard drugs and moping, Andrew goes to a doctor’s appointment to look into some bad headaches he’s having. And here he meets Sam, whom we find out is a compulsive liar and this movie’s version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl that I think Froemming and I can go on the record in saying we HATE HATE HATE this trope.

Sam also recognizes Andrew from an acting role he had on a TV show where he apparently played a mentally-challenged quarterback. I hate that I’m typing this, but it really, REALLY bugged me that Natalie Portman used the term retard like six times in 20 seconds. 

Is this what Jersey is like? I’ve only been as close as D.C.

Froemming: From what I gathered from Kevin Smith movies and “The Sopranos,” this is exactly what Jersey is like.

Brown: My coworker Erica grew up in New Jersey. I’ll have questions when I go to the office this week.

Froemming: Well, it turns out Andrew’s headaches are from the mash up of meds he is on that make zero sense. Why be on Celexa, Paxil, Prozac and a bunch of other antidepressants when they all do the same thing, but have different side effects? 

Brown: The dude consumes a veritable gumbo of drugs that emotionally turn him into a Terminator.

Froemming: Yeah I get that, but some of these would have no effect since they would be canceling one another out, or making symptoms worse. No doctor prescribes two different antidepressants at the same time because you would never know which one is problematic and which one helps. Whomever wrote this movie (Braff) is a goddamn idiot.

Brown: His next movie better not be about anti-vaxxers. 

After going to the doctor, Andrew sees Sam outside waiting for a ride home. He offers her a lift in his military motorcycle with sidecar because why the (REDACTED) not. 


Brown: Sam invites Andrew in and sees that her family lives in a ‘70s nightmare home with gross, muted colors everywhere, a pack of dobermans running around and hamster tubes going everywhere. 

Dude, Andrew, I don’t care if it’s Natalie Portman. That’s when you pull a Grandpa Simpson.

Froemming: Braff confuses being quirky with having a personality, thus we get Sam here. 

So yeah, Sam’s home life is not like everyone else’s, which is something everyone can say, thus why I hate that saying. Her brother was kinda adopted through a Sally Struthers commercial and he ended up in America and moved in. I would rather have watched that guy’s story, because I just kept hoping Andrew would crash his motorcycle and the movie would be over and he seemed way more interesting. 

Brown: Right?! As soon as they tell Titembay’s story of suffering in his journey to knowledge, that would make a WAY better movie. Too bad he ended up at Rutgers of all places.

Froemming: Then they listen to records and bury a hampster. During the burial, Andrew confesses he hasn’t cried since his mother died. I would have related to this a bit, since my own mother passed away this year and my emotions about that are still raw and conflicted, but my anger trumped my empathy here. Way to go, Braff, you are that unlikable to me. 

Brown: I was kind of hoping it would be an “Office” style of funeral. 

Looking back at it, it kind of was like “The Office.”

Sam cries a lot about the funeral and hearing about Andrew’s mother. Because they’re the polar opposites and they’ll complete each other or something stupid like that.

When Andrew comes back to his parents’ house, his dad wants to have a talk. And they should have a talk. The matriarch of the family is dead! There should be a conversation. 

But no, Andrew goes to hang out with grave robbers! I hope they were like Bender and got their grave-robbing kit.

Froemming: Yeah, his townie buddies steal jewelry out of the coffins they are burying. Honestly, this didn’t shock me one bit. These are guys partying with high school girls. They are basically…

So yeah, this happens, then he hangs out with Sam again because these two are meant to be together or something. And while at the bar, worlds collide as his friends invite him and Sam to get wasted. So, he goes out of his way to avoid talking to his father so he and his good-time buddies and get messed up. 

Brown: There’s a point where they meet their Bruce Wayne-rich friend Jesse, who apparently is bored all the time because he made a fortune inventing silent Velcro? Just say drugs. I’d believe drugs. 

It’s to the point where Jesse shoots a flaming arrow in the air for reasons? With the exception of Mark, any scene with the other friends are a colossal waste of my time. It’s not like Andrew wants to visit with any of them except for the cute girl he picked up at the doctor’s office who apparently suffers from epilepsy and had a seizure at a job we NEVER see her go to.

Natalie, your character’s job was to be Zooey Deschanel-adjacent. 

Froemming: Well, we learn Andrew can’t swim and this movie just pads everything out because it is horrible. 

Let’s get to this final stretch, which wastes our time more. But we will be closer to ending this conversation. 

On Andrew’s final day in town, he wants to hang out with Sam, but Mark wants to get him a present, which will take some time, so what the hell, he brings Andrew and Sam along on his little stoner adventure that is almost as boring as a Hobbit movie.

First, they hit up a hardware store. And they come across a high school acquaintance whom they hate. Instead of being adults and politely ending any conversation with “I got to get going man,” they listen to this guy spout off nonsense, and is about to try and rope them into a pyramid scheme. 

This should have been cut, but I think that about most of this movie. 

Brown: Quick personal story: I remember a high-school acquaintance that I was indifferent towards friended me on Facebook. A couple days later, he apparently took my phone number off of Facebook and gave it to a Quixtar recruiter. I told the guy on the other line to lose my number and tell the guy who gave him the number to (REDACTED) off. If I see him in person, I’m gonna punch him in the throat. No one wants to buy off-brand vitamins and energy drinks for higher prices in your pyramid scheme, you asshats.

Anywho, this stoner scavenger hunt would be inoffensive on its own if (REDACTED) Method Man wasn’t dragged into this movie. But sure enough, someone from the Wu-Tang Clan is in this movie in an inconsequential role as a bellhop (feels kind of racist) that takes people’s money to let them watch people have sex through peepholes. 

(REDACTED) you, Zach Braff.

Froemming:  So they get Method Man his nitrous tank in exchange for an address? Look, they end up in some quarry where there is a house made out of a boat, and this was me…

Brown: Yeah, there’s quirky and there’s stupid. A boat on land used as a home is just stupid. You live in New Jersey. It gets cold there. And boats aren’t insulated enough to live in, you moronic hipsters. Go hop on a tandem bicycle and fall into that infinite abyss next to your house.

So we end up at Moron Manor so Mark can trade in his grave-robbing jewelry for a gift for Andrew. And this is after Mark exploits a loophole in a hardware store’s return policy to get $40 like he’s trying to buy black tar heroin. 

Is there not one sane person in Jersey?

Froemming: No.

Well, they leave these two future Darwin Award Winners in garbage bags to keep their already sopping wet clothes dry?

*rubs temple* I hate this (REDACTED) movie.

And then they climb on some doodad (technical term) and scream into the abyss, because symbolism or something. 

Then Mark gives Andrew the gift: Andrew’s mother’s favorite piece of jewelry. 

  • It is established that Mark is a grave-robber. But this is nonsensical? Did he sell it to Method Man who told him who bought it? WHY DID HE ROB THE DEAD CORPSE OF HIS FRIEND’S MOTHER? 

I was so angry here I think I blacked out for a solid minute or so. How did Andrew know she loved it when it was, what, 19 years since he had even seen her? It made it clear he didn’t really talk to his parents during this, and he was zonked out on meds, so if she did somehow tell him, would he even had remembered?

Brown: OK, had I found out that one of my “friends” robbed graves, I’d punch them in the jejunum like Woody Harrelson did to Will Farrell in “Semi-Pro.” 

If I suspected that he once robbed MY MOTHER’S GRAVE, regardless of whether he gave me something back, I’d push that person into the infinite abyss to watch them fall forever like Ozzie Smith in “The Simpsons.”

But NOOOOOO, we’re OK with this because is dictator levels of unfeeling. All her cares about is Natalie Portman and telling his dad he takes no responsibility in his mother’s paralysis. 

I don’t disagree with his sentiment. It was a freak accident by the sound of it. I disagree wholeheartedly with the way he tells his dad to effectively (REDACTED) off in his explanation.

Froemming: Except, he did paralyze his mother. He pushed her. Then he blames the bum dishwasher latch for actually doing the damage. Sorry man, that machine has no mind of its own. You did this. (REDACTED) you for not taking the responsibility. Had you not pushed her, she would not have been in a wheelchair for 19 years. Had you not pushed her, she would not have drowned in the bathtub. 

Andrew killed his mother. And feels like it wasn’t his fault. Because he is a (REDACTED) person. And then he tells off his poor suffering father? (REDACTED) you Andrew, I hope you and Sam have the same fate as Bud and Sissy, forever locked in a toxic relationship, falling in love with mechanical bulls and wasting your pointless lives at Gilley’s. 

Let’s go to recommendations.


Brown: Only if you’re friends with Froemming and want to make his life hell for 90 minutes. Otherwise, pass.

Froemming: No. 

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:

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