February 27, 2006
Starring: Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton, Julie Delpy, Christopher McDonald, Mark Webber, Chloë Sevigny, Heather Alicia Simms, Larry Fessenden,
Ever since Night on Earth (1991), filmmaker Jim Jarmusch has worked with recognizable movie stars in what could be interpreted as a bid for mainstream acceptance or, more probably, a way to get his films financed and distributed in a progressively difficult marketplace. This is especially true for independent filmmakers like him (just ask John Sayles). The scene has changed a lot since the mid-‘80s when Jarmusch emerged with Stranger than Paradise (1984). He’s dabbled with indie studios like Fine Line Features and Miramax in the ‘90s and continues to do so in the new Millennium with Universal’s indie boutique, Focus. Despite it all, he’s remained truly independent owning all of his movies outright.
When Don Johnston (Murray) breaks up with his girlfriend (Delpy), he also receives a mysterious letter in the mail with no return address. The letter is from an old lover who tells him that she had a baby 19 years ago, a son that is his child. Don is perplexed and skeptical while his best friend, Winston (Wright), is intrigued. Winston is obsessed with detective fiction and solving mysteries and scans the letter and its corresponding envelope for clues. Don manages to narrow it down to four women with his friend’s help and goes on the road to find the author of the letter. Don’s journey into his past is a contrived set-up but with Jarmusch’s deft touch it feels natural.
The first old flame he meets is Laura (Stone) who had married a race car driver that died in an explosion and has a very Lolita-esque daughter. Laura has a slightly sad, haunted vibe to her. The second one, Dora (Conroy) lives in sterile suburbia with her husband (McDonald) and works in real estate selling designer homes. Dora leads a bland, predictable life. Carmen (Lange) was an unhappy lawyer who was reborn as an animal “communicator” and can hear them speak to her. The last one, Penny (Swinton), is a belligerent burnout still bitter about their past relationship and this culminates in a violent conflict.
Bill Murray continues his middle-aged sad sack routine with this movie, his face affixed with a consistently deadpanned, hang-dog expression worthy of Buster Keaton. After this film, his shtick feels played out. Murray has explored just about every variation and nuance possible for this particular type of character and kind of performance. His acting in Broken Flowers mirrors Jarmusch’s laid-back direction perfectly.
The always reliable Jeffrey Wright is excellent as Winston who does all the leg work and pushes his friend to solve this mystery. He is the proactive counterpart to Don’s reluctant protagonist – a hallmark of Jarmusch’s films. In typical fashion of all of the director’s movies, Broken Flowers is an understated comedy and this is evident in the way Winston and interacts with his family – they clearly love each other but Jarmusch doesn’t hit us over the head with it.
Broken Flowers most closely resembles Stranger than Paradise with its long, static takes and deals with a protagonist’s inertia. Don is an aging Don Juan, a bit of a sad sack stuck in rut with no direction in his life and the anonymous letter he gets in the mail motivates him into action. Or rather, he stumbles into an adventure. A large weight of regret hangs over Don and this overshadows his entire journey. True Jarmusch devotees are wondering throughout if this film will be open-ended a la Down by Law (1986) or have some kind of closure like Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999). Ultimately, Broken Flowers is about a journey that forces Don to re-examine his life and his relationships with the women in it.
“Girls on the Bus” features more footage of the terminally chatty teenage girls that Don encounters on a bus.
“Broken Flowers: Start to Finish” is an amusing outtakes reel that takes us through the entire movie.
“Farm House” features behind-the-scenes footage with Jarmusch talking in voiceover about the random nature of life and how he likes to have scenes in his movies where you don’t know what’s going to happen next.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.