It was inevitable, wasn't it?
There's no way that the actual, full-length version of Zach Braff's Garden State was ever going to live up to the beauty of the preview. And, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, if nothing else, that means Braff was able to come up with about three minutes, total, of extremely evocative images during his first time out as a director. Which is more than I can say of Van Helsing or King Arthur. That preview is its own work of art, visual poetry as pure and stunning as anything we're likely to see in 2004.
Within the last year, the sensitive filmgoer has been treated to Lost in Translation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Before Sunset, three extraordinarily powerful and devastatingly romantic films dealing with similar themes of rootlessness, memory, and longing, so Braff had a hell of a lot to live up to if he hoped to make an impact on the kind of audience that's likely to see such films. But, what a compliment in and of itself that Garden State can even be mentioned in the same breath as those contemporary masterworks. (I'll spare you the pain of additional comparisons to The Graduate and Harold and Maude since, outside of acting as inspiration for the lonely-boy protagonist and the general quirky aesthetic, those films shouldn't automatically be classed with Garden State. And, as with Igby Goes Down and its Salinger nods, Garden State's relative merits shouldn't be confused with the merits of its referents and it shouldn't be blindly praised just because the filmmaker has the same good taste in movies and books that you do.)
Perhaps I'm being too hard on Garden State. It was certainly lovely. I laughed out loud several times, was genuinely touched by the moment when Large hugs Sam's mother, and have decided that no one's doing barely contained anger on camera these days like Peter Sarsgaard. If I'd happened upon it randomly, divorced from the unique brand of indie-hype that it's spawned, I probably would have wholly embraced it as one of "my" movies. (If you've seen the DVD shelf at my apartment, you know what I mean.) But. (But.) There is (however adorable) a bit of baby fat clinging to the writing, and the general sense that, for all Braff's talent and resources, my friends and I, if we were working at the top of our collective games, probably could have come up with something comparable.