Garden State: New York City – Fans waited outside the Chelsea West Clearview theater this past Wednesday to catch a glimpse of celebrities attending the New York premiere of Garden State.

Guests included the film’s stars, Zach Braff and Natalie Portman. For Braff -- known to many as Dr. John “J.D.” Dorian on the NBC hit sitcom Scrubs – the night held special significance: it marked the public realization of Brach’s writing and directorial debut.

Garden State -- which drew audiences at this year’s Sundance Film Festival -- began as bits and pieces of scenes which Braff, a New Jersey native, worked on during college and later developed into a screenplay in 2000. Braff has admitted in interviews that the reason he wrote the Jersey homage was because he wanted to chronicle the journey of a man who returns home and rediscovers life and love.

The screenplay’s unconventional nature attracted Hollywood A-lister Natalie Portman to take on the role of Sam, a quirky, yet endearing pathological liar who opens Braff’s eyes. For Portman, Garden State was a refreshing change of pace, having worked on epic films like Cold Mountain and more recently, Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Sam was an exciting character to take on.

“One of my favorite things that Zach did is that he wrote this dream girl as some kooky, off-kilter girl instead of writing some rich, bland, model type which most guys would write as their dream girl,” Portman said on the red carpet. “She’s not bland; she’s someone who’s going to be compassionate about all of their problems. This girl is a real person with her own issues and her own insecurities. It was kind of great that he wrote such a full female character.”

Prior to the premiere, Portman and Braff participated in a whirlwind of press junkets and interviews to promote the film.

“We don’t have the budget to do tons of television commercials. It’s really about us going out there and doing whatever we can.”

The efforts are paying off: Garden State is garnering positive feedback from both critics and audiences.

“People are responding so much to the movie. Even today – it just opened today – I’m already having people come up to me on the streets saying, ‘Oh my god, the movie was so beautiful.’ That’s been wonderful because people have been really responsive. I think word-of-mouth is really the best advertising you can get.”

Garden State is in New York and Los Angeles theaters now.

- JP Mangalindan

Photos by David Graver: