I had the opportunity to see an advance screening of GARDEN STATE last night and was terribly disappointed. Zach Braff (who starred and directed) plays Andrew Largeman, a depressed, over medicated actor who comes home for his mother’s funeral and begins to reconnect with his friends and estranged father. The film’s opening is promising, hinting at a dry wit reminiscent of THE GRADUATE and HAROLD AND MAUDE but quickly falters, with a weak script that feels more like a collection of scenes where Braff gets to roll his eyes at those crazy, kooky inhabitants of suburban New Jersey. The stockpile of supporting characters are never developed beyond their eccentricities. They are used primarily for comic punch lines or to provide background in over stylized settings for the developing relationship between Braff and Sam (Natalie Portman), which, while being sincere, is annoyingly trite, with the two primarily standing around exclaiming melodramatic, quirky things about themselves. Portman oddly seems like a lanky, twelve-year old girl, leaving one to question what Braff sees in her in the first place. Their relationship is reminiscent of Jim Carrey’s and Kate Winslet’s in the far superior ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, with Carrey playing the shy, damaged man and Winslet the eccentric, charming girl. But Carrey and Winslet’s interactions are natural and incredibly poignant, while Braff and Portman’s are weakened by heavy exposition and forced staging. It’s a shame that the film falters so badly, as Braff has a nice on screen presence and a good directorial eye for interesting shots, but definitely could learn a thing or two from Charlie Kaufman about structure and sublety.