Zach Braff plays an aspiring actor in LA who is called home to New Jersey when his mother dies. His father, a psychiatrist, has kept him on a regimen of antidepressant drugs for most of his life, leaving him feeling detached and unhappy. While he is home, he meets a girl (played by Natalie Portman) who makes him want to experience life again, and who he falls in love with.
That's a very quick, bare-bones outline of the plot, and as I mentioned, it both succeeds and fails. First, the success. I am blessed never to have experienced clinical depression, but have been very close to some individuals who have. Several years ago, one of them showed up on my doorstep in tears one evening. I asked him in, and as we talked, I learned that he was trying to go off of his medications after many years on them. He knew that it was a dangerous move, but he said that he felt like he had spent the last decade of his life living behind a veil, never really experiencing anything, just watching somebody who he knew was him going through the motions of life. Watching Zach Braff in this movie, that is exactly the feeling that is evoked, somebody who is trying very hard to reclaim the ability to feel.
Unfortunately, I think that the success in creating a mood comes at the expense of the story and dialogue, and that's where we get to the failure - Natalie Portman. I don't like to say that, because I really like her and enjoy her work, but she is just unbearable in this movie. You know what? Here's a quote from one of the articles I linked yesterday that sums it up pretty well.
I hated that character from the second she flounced on the screen. I remember distinctly Portman telling Zach Braff's character that she was "weird" and then doing a silly little dance to illustrate her "weirdness." Honestly? Anyone who telegraphs their so-called weirdness so outlandishly is not actually weird, they're merely quirky enough to be vaguely interesting without having their own thing going on. They're completely mainstream but have one really big tattoo, or occasionally sing really loud in the shower! "Oh, Natalie," the A.V. Club writes, "your unconventional ways are so inspiring, and your beauty is surprisingly non-threatening!"
LESSON - Ah, I've got nothin' tonight.