One of the movies I had really been excited to see lately was Garden State, featuring Zach Braff from Scrubs and Natalie Portman, from the book “Actresses Jeff Has A Crush On.” So Steph and I went over to the local suburban cineplex and saw it over the weekend, and it didn’t disappoint in the least. Garden State is my favorite movie of the year thus far.

Both of us are big fans of Scrubs, but I’ve always had a feeling that Braff has been capable of much more. This film, which he wrote and directed, is about a sullen twenty-something male and his struggles with medication, his parents & relationships. The film is largely a quiet, sunken affair, but Braff adds such incredibly interesting touches of uproarious oddball humor, interesting characters, strange left-turns and fantastic dialogue – plus a knack for “getting the right shot,” while not over-doing any of it. His talent isn’t just in plot or writing: it really lies hidden in the cracks – it’s the extra few moments of pause before a character says something, or how the sweet and gentle touches of each character play out after you see their harshness; or, most importantly, how silence becomes the most deafening roar. It all made this movie shine. I mean, really shine.

Natalie Portman also takes a pretty nice leap forward for her resume, too. She played her slightly dippy character to perfection and ends up as one of the key players in the movie’s success. Nice to see that she’s not just taking roles where she wears half-shirts (uh, you reading this Lucas?).

One more note: from what I’ve read about Braff, he has great taste in music and I’ve said it dozens of times – music can put a film over the edge, positive or negative. The movie skewed towards the dark in both plot and ambiance. So a big, huge, fat A-plus for the music selection in Garden State. The Shins, Nick Drake, Iron and Wine, Simon & Garfunkel and even Colin Hay (from Men At Work) contributed some stunning musical accompaniment. This is Braff’s first full-scale film and an absolute must-see; I’m incredibly impressed and looking forward to what he can do in the future.

Song now playing: Prince – “Controversy”