NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by Renee Vwho adds that... "The soundtrack to this movie was great!"
The movie opens with a number of disjointed scenes. The first begins in darkness, with the sound of a plane captain's voice saying that they are experiencing difficulties, eventually screaming "mayday!" The darkness cuts to a scene of pandemonium on an airplane, slowly panning backwards, as you see luggage falling, plastic oxygen masks spilling downward, and passengers in their chairs, screaming, rocking back & forth. Eventually the camera backs up enough that we see a young man (Zach Braff) who is unnaturally peaceful. He looks up, and adjusts the air so that it is hitting his face, relaxing as a woman screams in his ear. He blinks slowly, looks around, and then looks up, acknowledging the fasten seat belt light as it switches on.
The scene switches suddenly to an image of the same young man in a small bedroom. The carpet is white, the blinds are white, the bed is white. He sleeps on his back like the dead. The phone rings, and rings, and he lies in bed, staring up at the ceiling. Eventually, the answering machine picks up, and an older man's voice says "Andrew? Andrew? Helloooo? Pick up the phone." Eventually the man's voice cracks up emotionally, explaining that it's his father, and he doesn't know how to say this to a machine, but Andrew never returns his calls. He tells Andrew that he has to come home. So he tells the machine as Andrew lies in bed, blinking slowly, that his wife, Andrew's mother, drowned in the tub. He hangs up. Andrew lies in bed, blinking, frowning momentarily, and then closes his eyes again.
The scene switches suddenly, again, to show Andrew, his face reflected in a two door medicine cabinet, the features not quite matching up where the line runs and the two mirrors come together. He opens the cabinet, and the cabinet is lined with more than 60 prescription bottles, labels neatly standing out. He stands still for a moment, and then closes the medicine cabinet.
The scene switches one final time, to show Andrew getting out of his car in the back of a restaurant in Los Angeles. He shuts the driver's side door, and stares, stunned. There is a gasoline dispenser without the cable still sticking out of his gas tank. He takes it out, a little gingerly, and tosses it in a nearby dumpster. Then he goes into the back of the restaurant, where it becomes apparent by the man screaming at him that he's late, and that there are hundreds of would-be actors who want his job, and if he pulls this stunt again, he'll lose his job to a boy in Delouth. We watch Andrew walk into a glamorous Asian restaurant, with an earpiece in, saying things like "Waiter11, table 17 needs their order taken." Andrew takes the orders of a rude party of six with the same vacant, slow reaction he has had to everything. This scene includes a great exchange with an angry female patron, who demands bread. "We don't have any bread," he explains. "What do you mean?" "Well, we're a Vietnamese restaurant. We don't have bread." The scene ends with Andrew going back towards the restaurant kitchen, a voice saying something like "Waiter 11, your non-stop flight from LAX to Newark, New Jersey leaves in two hours..."
The scene cuts to a funeral. We hear a woman with the strongest New Jersey accent ever singing the Commodores "Three Times a Lady." Beside the grave is a picture of the woman being buried: a late-aged woman in a wheelchair. The mourners are all standing together, and off to one side stands Andrew Largeman. He stares with a blissfully uncomprehending expression, vacantly at ease, as his father (played by Ian Holm) painfully places the first scoop of dirt on the coffin. Andrew turns away, and sees two men, sitting on a small CAT machine in workers overalls, watching. Andrew frowns, and they frown back.
A moment later, the scene switches and the funeral is over, though people are still milling at the graveyard, and Andrew is walking towards the gravediggers he was frowning at earlier. One of them is his friend from high school, Mark, played by Peter Saarsgard. They make comments about how Andrew is an LA actor, and Mark has a relative who is a writer, and how they ought to get together over something. Andrew makes vague comments in agreement with this. They ask him why he's there, and Andrew points behind him to the grave, explaining that his mom is dead. They invite him to attend a party later on that night, saying he should go, and they'll be going "As soon as we finish burying your mom." Then one of the guys interrupts. He's forgotten to mention something. "Actually, I'll need to shower afterwards."
The scene cuts to the reception post-funeral. The singer from the graveyard has cornered Andrew on a large sectional sofa, and explains that she made him a shirt with the remnants of the fabric Andrew's dead mother used to redecorate the hallway bathroom. This scene is only significant because it takes place at the astringently neat Largeman home, and the singer explains that she needs him to try the shirt on, right there at the reception, so that she can finish any necessary alterations before Andrew leaves "for another nine years." A moment later, we get to see Andrew in the shirt that matches the walls of the bathroom. And it's pretty much the hottest short-sleeved button-down forest green shirt with golden fleur-de-lises you've ever seen.
The scene cuts to his father's study in the Largeman home. Ian Holm is short, but his face is so tight and his body is held so rigidly as he portray's Andrew's father, Gideon Largeman, that he's threatening and imposing all the same. Gideon tells Andrew that it's good he could come. Andrew agrees. His dad adds that it's good he could "fit it in" to his busy schedule. Andrew has no reaction to this but the tension increases throughout the conversation. Andrew says he's been getting these sudden split-second headaches. His father, a psychiatrist, explains that he'll have someone at the local hospital where he works take care of it. Gideon says they need to talk, that Andrew's mother would've wanted it that way. After a few more insults that don't seem to get any kind of rise out of Andrew at all, Andrew drifts out of the study and to the garage.
Andrew walks past a car and stops at an oddly shaped green tarp. He pulls a tarp off of an old-fashioned world war II motorbike with sidecar attachment. Andrew smiles when he looks at it, the first time he's really smiled all movie, and rides it out, seemingly to the party he was invited to earlier. He gets pulled over by a cop for speeding, and the cop is a total jerk. But he doesn't give Andrew a ticket since its another friend from high school. The friend-turned-cop makes some kind of De Niro joke, denies ever having done coke, gets confirmation that he's doing a good job as a cop, and then lets Andrew go. At the party, Andrew meets another old friend, who explains that he's doing absolutely nothing, but he's got this great house and all this money because he made silent velcro and sold his patent for "a lot" of money, but he's never been so bored in his life.
Everyone at the party is drunk, and getting drunker. Andrew does a tiny hit off of a joint but is clearly uncomfortable in the setting and with the drugs. Then Andrew is offered some coke, and says no, he won't do it. They ask if he's supposed to be a movie star, but he just shakes his head. He is clearly still out of it, and unnaturally calm. He takes some Ecstasy instead, and watches, in a haze, as a bunch of girls and guys get drunker and drunker, smoking pot, doing E, and snorting coke, (all while playing spin the bottle) but it's clear from the way he never moves, that he's just not feeling much of anything. Even when the bottle spins to him, and a girl (who looks like she would win the barely legal award) crawls onto his lap and kisses him, he hardly reacts. The rest of the evening passes in a blurry haze, and when he wakes up, he's in a completely different room, and the audience sees that someone was kind enough to write the word "Balls" on his head.
He wakes up to the sound of metal crashing. He looks up to see a man in full armor staring back at him from the kitchen, and then the knight walks on. Andrew gets up, and goes into the kitchen, where Mark, his mother, and the knight, another high school friend of Andrew's, are all having breakfast. Mark is smoking pot. The knight is another 26 year old, but he's sleeping with Mark's mom, a fact which Mark hates, and during the breakfast, Mark bates, insults, and threatens the knight. Just at the time that he decides he's had enough, the knight guy gets up, and thanks Mark's mom for breakfast and her encouragement, and informs Andrew that the word 'balls' is written on his forehead.
A few minutes later, Mark's mom is encouraging Mark to show Andrew the 'tapes,' which is a real estate video tape that promises to help you make a lot of money and get a great career. Mark's mom talks about potential, and Mark talks about stupid schemes that he doesn't want to be involved in. Mark's mom says she'll get the tapes and do it instead. And Andrew will be invited to her yacht, but not his friend. She gets up, since it's time for her to go to work. Andrew, who has spent all this time petting a variety of cats, watches Mark's mom kiss Mark on the forehead, as they resentfully tell each other they love one another, and realizes he's late for his doctor's appointment. He runs out.
At the hospital, Andrew fills out forms as a woman with a seeing eye-dog comes in. She sits down, and the dog walks away from her, and trots over to Andrew, and starts enthusiastically humping his leg. Andrew stares down at the dog, quietly telling it to heel, making a girl in the corner start laughing. The girl tells him to kick the dog in the balls if he wants it to stop. Andrew won't, and she comes over and says she has three Dobermans at home, and if she didn't kick them in the balls, she'd never get anything done. Andrew says he seems to be almost done now anyway, and for a few awkward moments, it looks like the dog is going to copulate with Andrew's shin, but then his owner calls, and the dog (uncomfortably) bounds away. The girl (Sam, played by Natalie Portman) recognizes him as the retarded guy from television. ("Are you really retarded?") She asks him why he's there and says she can't believe how nosey she is. Andrew explains about his headaches, and asks her why she's there. She says she's waiting for a friend. At first, Andrew doesn't want to talk to her, but she's refreshingly open with him, has some funny lines, and she has him listen to a song by the Shins, which he enjoys. As he gets up to go in, the receptionist tells Sam that the doctor will seem her next. Andrew stares at Sam, surprised, and she puts her head phones on and looks down.
In the scenes with the doctor, the doctor shares some uncomfortable anecdotes with Andrew, before asking why Andrew has been on Lithium and a number of other mood altering drugs for so long. Andrew explains he's been taking them since he was nine, and Lithium was the only drug that he used consistently. But he was on a temporary vacation from the drugs. He hadn't had any since he left LA. The doctor asked if his psychiatrist approved. Andrew said that his psychiatrist was his father, and no, his father probably didn't approve, which is why Andrew was seeing the doctor, and not his dad. The doctor said they would give Andrew an MRI, but it might just be the drugs leaving his system that is making him hurt, and that Andrew should get treatment, not medication. He should also get a new therapist, since his father 'ought to know' that he shouldn't treat his own son. Certainly not for so long.
We watch as Andrew gets put into the MRI, while listening to the same song by the Shins that Sam made him listen to, and we see his chest. (You need to see the movie for that part. It's *hilarious*).
The next scene shows Andrew driving up to the front of the hospital, where Sam is waiting. Sam does not explain why she was at the hospital despite questioning. He asks her why she lied, and if she always lies. Sam tells him that anything she says him could be a lie, so what does it matter what she says now? Andrew says he supposes that he could choose to trust her. Sam then asks for a ride home. She refuses to ride in the sidecar, and puts on a helmet. Andrew asks why she has a helmet of her own. She says it's because her boyfriend drives a ninja and it goes way faster than Andrew's grandfather's old bike. As he takes off at about two miles per hour out of the parking lot, Sam goes "woooo! I can feel the wind in my hair!"
They get to Sam's place, and Sam admits she doesn't have a boyfriend. She lied. In fact, she lies all the time. She doesn't know why, but she sometimes is suprised by the things she says. She invites him inside, and we see that Sam wasn't lying about the Doberman dogs. She casually yells over her shoulder to 'kick them in the balls' as the dogs jump on Andrew.
Sam's home is in direct contrast to Andrew's. It is messy, full of primary colors, and miles of Hamster tubes, for Sam's Hamsters, Peanut and Jelly. We discover because Sam's mother is holding a dead, stiff hamster in her hands, that Sam forgot to take out the metal wheel from the cage, and Jelly, 'the one hamster in the world who didn't understand hamster wheels' went and got herself killed. (How a hamster dies in the wheel was never explained.) "Bury him in the backyard. I have to go!" her mother says. Andrew briefly meets Sam's "brother" Mbeki, before they go upstairs.
Sam takes Andrew upstairs, where he sits on the bed and is introduced to tickle, Sam's old nursery blanket. Sam tells him they won't make out, he can relax, and then she says how she can't believe she just said that. "You're freaking out, aren't you? You're totally freaking out. You're like running for the door." Andrew asks her to stop saying that, since he wouldn't be there if he didn't want to be. Sam tells (and displays for him) her belief that all awkward moments can be banished by doing something unique that no one has ever done before, like an unusual body movement or a funny noise. It makes you special again, and worthwhile, even if only for a second. She invites him to do it too. He is embarrassed, and does a little finger trick (as seen in trailer) and Sam shakes her head. "I've definitely done that before." Then she winks at him, and nods her head in the direction of the backyard and starts winking even more exagerratedly. "So you wanna help me bury a hamster? You do, don't you? C'mon."
They go into the backyard where the graves of many household animals can be found ("Don't worry. They're mostly fish,") and Sam is laughing and joking about burying Jelly until Andrew casually says he's been going to a lot of funerals lately. Sam makes him explain, so he tells her his mother died, and he didn't cry at her funeral. He hadn't cried since he was a little boy. Sam starts crying, and apologizes, since she says she doesn't know why. She makes him take the rest of the funeral seriously, and she does too, as she solemnly buries Jelly.
(I can't remember the perfect sequence of events at this point, so some of these are out of order.)
Andrew is back at his home, opening the fridge, and when he closes the door, there is his father, Gideon. Gideon asks Andrew why he's been avoiding him, and when he's leaving New Jersey for LA again. Andrew says 'tomorrow, probably.' His father says they need to talk, that they owe it to each other and the dead matron of the house. Only after Andrew uncomfortably commits to talking later that night does his father stiffly walk away, apologizing for scaring him.
Andrew is at the graveyard again in the next scene, talking to Mark, who is burying another body. As the guy who invented Silenct Velcro talks about all going out and doing something that evening, Andrew realizes that Mark is opening the coffin and stealing the jewelry of the deceased. Mark meets Andrew's gaze, challenging him to say something, but Andrew chooses to say nothing. He lets it go as Silent Velcro boy finally figures that it was Aldous Huxtable who wrote Brave New World.
Andrew goes out to see Sam that evening, and picks her up at her house. Her mother insists that he watch some video tapes of Sam as an ice skater when she was eight. Sam says she doesn't want him to see it, but Andrew says he does. Her mother says to not be shy about her talents, but Sam insists she's not talented. Her mom says "don't let the epilepsy make you say things like that!" or something to that extent, and Sam gets a look of shock on her face. So does Andrew, whose face is becoming slightly more expressive. They watch the tape, which is of a young Sam dressed in a full body crocodile costume ("The crocodile is you?" "You can tell by the hands") and Sam actually was very good. They clap as she lands a double axel, and the lights go out. Sam's brother gets a pissed off look on his face, and claps twice.
Never clap in a living room where you've plugged in the Clapper.
As they are leaving with Sam very irritated, Sam's mom makes her give her a hug, and then demands one of Andrew. Andrew is strangely happy to get the hug, and stays in it for awhile. (Kind of quietly emotional.) They go to a bar, and Andrew talks about how he first started to really love acting because it was his one chance to pretend that he was someone else, someone totally different. But he'd been so out of that he could only get rolls playing handicapped people. Sam says that it's really funny. He says it isn't, actually, but Sam explains that yes, she has epilepsy, and it's why she has the helmet. She had a seizure at her job, and they said their insurance wouldn't cover it, so to work there she had to have protection. The helmet was her protection. And it looked pretty stupid, and it was pretty funny. "You have to laugh at yourself."
They're about to laugh, when Mark and Dave and a bunch of women and men show up and say "let's go get pissed!" Sam and Andrew agree to tag along.
They cut to a pool scene where everyone jumps in but Andrew. They all stare at him, confused, and Sam asks him if he can swim. Andrew insists he can, but a moment later, as he flounders in deep water ("You look like a wet beaver" "Yeah, maybe you should go sit by the stairs") he admits he can't. He missed out on a lot in his childhood, he says. He talks to Sam about how he doesn't really like going home, that it stopped being a place that existed. It was just a feeling of safety in his mind.
The next scene shows the four of them sitting in front of a huge fireplace. Mark asks Dave why there's no furniture in the room, and Dave explains that he bought an arm chair, but didn't like it. ("So where is it?" "It's keeping us warm.") The only item in the room is a large gasoline-powered golfcart. (We also get to see silent velcro in action.) They start talking about themselves, and Andrew mentions off-handedly that he got sent away when he was 16. Sam asks what he means, and Andrew explains that he was sent to boarding school. His father sent him away because they thought he would be danger to people. Sam continues to ask why, and though Dave and Mark don't ask it's clear they want to know.
Andrew explains that his mother was in the wheelchair because of him. He pushed her. Sam stares, wide-eyed, and Andrew smiles, and says "You're so freaked out right now. You're totally freaked out. You're like, running for the door you're so freaked out." Mark says that his mom was in a wheel chair before he was sixteen, so why was he sent away then?
Andrew says that it happened when he was nine. His mother had been depressed all her life, and he said that as a little boy, it made him frustrated because he was always sad that he couldn't make her happy. And she got depressed one day in the kitchen, and he pushed her. Any other day, she would've fallen, gotten angry, and hit him, but the latch on the dishwasher, which was always broken and always falling open, had fallen open. His mother slipped on it, banged her neck on the counter, and it broke her neck, paralyzing her from the waist down. He'd been on lithium ever since.
Mark and Dave are taken aback, which is when a girl in a bra and underwear says "Dave, where's the sauna?" Dave and Mark scramble onto the cart, insisting they'll show her together. Sam starts to ask Andrew more, but Andrew shakes his head and says he wants to focus on positive things. Sam says they're 'in it' working things out in their heads, and that's something. Andrew agrees, and says he's 'in it' and he likes her, and that's something. Sam laughs, and offers to show him how well she can tap dance.
The next morning, Andrew is at Mark's place, checking out all of Mark's 'investments,' which are collections of various trinkets in the hopes that they'll become collector's items. Among other things, Mark has a nearly complete set of Desert Storm trading cards. (Someone stole his Wolf Blitzer.) Mark says that he has a gift for Andrew. Andrew says he said he would hang out with Sam on his last day. Mark says he doesn't mind if she comes along. They pick up Sam, with Mark in the sidecar and Andrew and Sam on the bike. They go to a hardware store, where Mark returns a set of knives he never bought for a cash refund. Outside, Andrew offers him money to be lent. Mark gets angry, and says that the only thing worse than a favor is a favor that involves money. So no, he doesn't want a favor, and he doesn't need one. He says he needs to get a can of nitrous gas to get the gift.
They go to a hotel, and meet a skeezy hotel bellboy who leads customers to a special hallway between bedrooms where paying visitors can see whatever goes on in the rooms. Sam and Andrew stare uncomfortably at the floor as a couple has sex and everyone else watches. Mark trades off the can for information to go to meet a man at a specific location. They have to go to a fenced off area in the middle of nowhere, and Andrew gets angry. He asks where they're going, and why he has to lead them to every skeezy place and ruin Sam and waste his day. Sam says she won't be ruined, and Andrew insists that she will be, that's she's innocent and that's why he likes her. After more scuffling, they continue, and go to an old construction site. The location would have been the site of a mall, but during the blasting for the foundations, the construction team blasted into a natural cavern formation, and now the company is locked in litigation. No one knows how far the ravine goes down, only that it's a massive rift in the land that goes into blackness. ("Can you imagine being the man arguing to build a mall on a natural phenomenon?" "Hey man, these people love their malls.")
They descend into the beginnings of the pit and find a boat, built up on stilts, like an arc, amidst a wasteland of rusting construction. Mark knocks, apprehensively, and a very nice man with a baby invites them in just as they get soaked in a downpour. He has them sit down, and talks about his job, which is to try and figure out how deep the ravine is. Andrew asks if he's exploring the infinite abyss, and the man says that he wants to do something unique. Something no one else has done before. It makes him feel more valuable. And then he touches his wife's shoulder, and says that he's happy to be with her, even if they're living a weird life in a boat at the bottom of a hole.
The man hands Mark a little bag. That is the object they came for.
The man on the boat gives them garbage bags to keep them dry(er) as they go back into the rain. As they are leaving, Andrew climbs up on top of a parked crane, leans over the edge, and screams into the ravine in the rain. Sam and Mark stare at him for a few minutes, and then join him, screaming into the ravine, their echoes bouncing off the walls. Then Andrew sweeps Sam into his arms and kisses her as the rain lets up.
Sam and Andrew go to drop Mark off, and Mark hands him the little bag. Mark asks if he doesn't even want to know what it is, and Andrew says it hardly matters. Mark tells him that "it wasn't intentionally how he wanted it to happen, but he's glad it worked out this way." Andrew opens the bag, and into his hands spills a little antique necklace. Andrew's mother's favorite necklace. "You didn't want it underground with her," Mark says, and goes inside.
The next scene shows Andrew and Sam sitting in the big bath tub where Andrew's mother drowned. They talk about how Andrew always remembered his mom, and how much the necklace reminded him of being home, and being held as a child. His voice chokes up a bit, and Sam jumps out of the tub, grabs a little dixie cup, and pushes it under his eye, catching his first tear since childhood. ("Is that it?" "Yeah, I think that's it." "Well, if you feel any more coming, just let me know. I've got the cup!") Andrew hugs Sam in the tub and tells her that he feels safe with her.
We next see Sam and Andrew lying in bed together, Sam asleep, and Andrew spooning her to a nearly uniform fit. He tosses and turns for a while, and then he gets up and goes to his father's bedroom. His father is asleep in bed with the lights on. Andrew wakes him, and they talk. With emotions barely creeping to the surface, Andrew's father informs Andrew that Andrew's been avoiding him, and that they'll never be able to move on if Andrew doesn't forgive himself for what he's done. Andrew asks his father what it is his father is trying for. Gideon says that he just wants to go back to that time when everyone in the family was happy. Andrew says that his mother was terminally depressed and Andrew had been feeling nothing for years. When was this happiness? He doesn't remember it. He lays a hand on Gideon's chest, and it's clear that Gideon is half afraid, half startled by this first physical contact between Andrew and himself in years.
Andrew says that someone made a bad latch and he had made a mistake as a child, for which his father had made him pay with all of his emotions for the last nine years, and Andrew forgives Gideon for that. But Gideon has to understand that they're not going to be happy. But they'll be alright, just being ok.
The next day it's at the airport, and Sam is sitting on the steps at the airport crying next to Andrew as he explains that he's not putting a period on the sentence of the two of them. He's just putting on an ellipsis, while he sorts himself out. Sam insists she can help him, but Andrew says he's got a lot to do back in LA. Sam says he won't come back, but Andrew insists he will, and runs to catch his plane.
(The background music at this point was the opening of Frou-Frou, Let Go), as Andrew sits on the plane, watching people, thinking about his time in New Jersey and everything in his life, staring as the attendants start to sit the passengers down.
We see Sam crying in a phone booth in the airport, when the door opens, and she asks "What are you doing here?" It's Andrew. Andrew says he gets it now, that the whole ellipsis thing was stupid. This is life right now, and this is feeling right now, and he's been waiting for ages to feel it, so what is he doing leaving it?
The movie ends with Sam and Andrew clinging to each other in an empty baggage claim, staying in the Garden State.