By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Aug 20, 2004 at 5:12 AM

{image1}Television acting skills do not necessarily translate to the big screen. Witness the countless actors and comedians who have tried the leap only to fall into the Hollywood abyss. So, it's all the more remarkable that "Garden State," the directorial and screenwriting debut of "Scrubs" star Zach Braff, is such a success.

When Andrew Largeman (Braff) was a kid, one dumb move altered his family forever and landed him on Lithium for life. After high school, he fled New Jersey for L.A. where he's trying to make a living as an actor (read: waiter). He's had one high profile role in a made-for-TV movie, in which he plays a retarded quarterback.

When he gets the call that his paraplegic mother has died, he returns home for the first time in nine years and spends a few days hiding out from his psychiatrist dad (Ian Holm); yes, the one who has kept him on drugs since he was a kid.

But he also hooks up with his old friends, including Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), who still lives at home with his mom and makes a living via sundry small-time cons. What Andrew finds is that leaving was perhaps the best thing he could have done. Everyone else is caught up in the high school lifestyle ... a decade later.

During a visit to a doctor, Andrew meets Samantha (Natalie Portman), a chronic liar from a loving, if oddball household, that includes her mother, an "adopted" brother from Africa and a sprawling backyard pet cemetery.

As you might expect, they fall in love, but can Andrew return to Jersey to be with Sam? Is this a love story doomed? Can Andrew open his heart and his mind and leave the drugs behind and start to feel again after so many years of numbness?

Sure, "Garden State" is top-loaded with lots of hipster gags and quirks that sometimes feel a little contrived, but the story is a good one and the performances are solid. Braff not only dishes up some great work, he coaxes the rest of the cast into playing their hearts out, too.

A fine soundtrack is well utilized by Braff in setting scenes, too, especially in one where Sam displays her tap dancing prowess.

Now that the generations of medicated Americans are growing up, many of us may see ourselves -- or people we know -- in Andrew Largeman and his life. This is one of those rare films that deserves its hype.

"Garden State" opens Friday, Aug. 20 at Landmark's Oriental Theatre.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.