Broken Flowers

© 2005 Ray Wong

Stars: Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny, Julie Delpy, Alexis Dziena
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writers: Jim Jarmusch
Distributor: Focus
MPAA Rating: R for language, adult themes, drug use, and nudity
Running Time: 105 minutes

Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 8
Editing – 7
Production – 7

Total – 7.3 out of 10

Writer-director Jim Jarmusch said he wrote BROKEN FLOWERS and the role of Don specifically for Bill Murray, and I can see why. In many ways, this film is a rehash of the critically acclaimed sleeper hit LOST IN TRANSLATION.

Don Johnston (Murray) is a well-to-do, middle-aged bachelor who has had strings of love affairs with women throughout his life. After his newest girlfriend Sherry (Delpy) leaves him, he receives an anonymous typewritten letter from a woman who claims to have bore him a 19-year-old son, and that his son is on a road trip looking for his father. At the urge of his nosy neighbor Winston (Wright), the skeptical Don embarks on a reluctant journey to seek out five women with whom he had affairs during that time of his life. These women include sexy Laura (Stone), reserved Dora (Conroy), free-spirited Carmen (Lange), and white-trashy Penny (Swinton). The fifth woman, Pepe, has been dead for two years.

In a way, it’s a very simple story that takes on the familiar, literal and metaphorical journey format. Each brief reunion with the women of his past helps Don (and the audience) learn more about himself and his life choices.

As the middle-aged Don Juan, Murray (LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU) recaptures his LOST IN TRANSLATION brilliance for deadpan humor. There are moments when the audience laughs out loud just by looking at Murray’s expressionless face and mannerisms. I think Murray has found and mastered a new art of comedy-dramatic performance. Wright (MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) also gives us an impressive performance as Don’s nosy, mystery-obsessed neighbor. Ironically, in a film about a man’s relationships with the women in his life, it’s the relationship between Murray and Wright that is the most genuine, funny and poignant. They make a perfect team together.

The women couldn’t be more different. At her age, Stone (CATWOMAN) remains very attractive and she instills a giggly, girlish quality to her role. Conroy (TV’s SIX FEET UNDER) plays the reserved, shy Dora to perfection. The stolen glances she shares with Murray are telling and hilarious at the same time. Lange (BIG FISH) is classy and sweet as Carmen, and you can feel the hurt and yearning in her every move and facial expression. Swinton (CONSTANTINE) is barely recognizable as the downtrodden Penny. Her anger, after all these years, toward Don is heart-wrenching and seems real. Delpy (BEFORE SUNSET), Sevigny (MELINDA & MELINDA) and Dziena (STRANGERS WITH CANDY) represent the younger women in Don’s life. Dziena specially has a surprising but hilarious scene with Murray as the man-obsessed and appropriately named Lolita.

Writer-director Jarmusch (COFFEE AND CIGARETTES) has crafted a minimalist film in the vein of LOST IN TRANSLATION. Much of this film is played out without dialogue, against the backdrop of ambient noises and a trippy Jazz soundtrack. Jarmusch doesn’t bother to explain everything to the audience. Most of the time, especially as Murray deadpans his way through the film, we have to guess the emotions experienced by these characters. The scenes with the women tell us more about Don than the women themselves. Jarmusch doesn’t want to spoon feed the audience with sensory stimulations and information; he wants us to work for them. But under his deft direction, and with the superb skills of the actors, it’s not difficult to understand these characters and the relationships at all. For example, the terse, almost silent scenes between Murray and Conroy are sublime -- they reveal so much with so little said.

At times, however, the minimalist approach can become grating, especially if you don’t have the patience for it. A cinematic equivalent of literary fiction, the film can be too heavily character-driven, too obscure, too symbolic, too subtle or obvious (I mean, okay, we get the connection between Lolita and her penchant for older men), too clever, or too cute. The lack of a definitive ending could also turn off some people. It’s definitely an intelligent film for an intelligent audience, trying to achieve a delicate balance between the profane and the profound. And judging from the packed theater at which I attended a showing, I think the audience gets and digs it. The film certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you like this type of artsy, literary works, like a vase of broken flowers, I think you’re in for a treat.

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