March 14, 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,
Bill Murray re-teams with his Coffee & Cigarettes director Jim Jarmusch in a story about a lonely batchelor who seeks out his old flames in an attempt to uncover if he really has a son.
There are two kinds of people: people who worship Jarmusch’s unapolegetically minimal, indie style of film-making, and people who find his films overrated and dull. With Broken Flowers (or Dead Flowers as it was originally called), the snowy-haired Lee Marvin-voiced director has once again assembled an impressive cast including Jessica Lange, Sharon Stone and the brilliant Jeffrey Wright, but even with Bill Murray as his lead he struggles to find the right balance in this molasses-paced ‘dramedy’.
The early part of the movie shows promise, with Murray’s Don Johnston (Johnston! with a T!) receiving a mystery letter claiming Don has a son from an affair twenty years ago and with the help of wannabe-detective neighbour Winston (Wright) he sets off on a road trip to try and find out which of his old flames sent the letter. Murray isn’t allowed to break free once and spends the film staring bluntly at people as if to say ‘you do the work’. Oh for a pratfall or a witty comeback. In lighter hands this could have been a laugh riot as each ex that Don visits seems weirder (and somehow plainer) than the last, but Jarmusch is too preoccupied with long static shots and endless highway montages. Minimalist comedy is all well and good if it’s actually funny, but for the most part Bill Murray looks like he wants to give up and go home, just like the audience. And if it wants to be a drama, where’s the conflict? Or the resolution for that matter?
You’re starting to see which type of Jarmusch people we are. If you like art films where very little happens other than characters talking to each other over dinner then you’ll like this. If you like cinematic, escapist entertainment then you’ll be banging your head against the wall for ninety minutes willing something – anything – funny or dramatic to happen.
It’s not all bad. Murray keeps you watching even at the dullest of times, and the only weak link in the supporting characters is Tilda Swinton, but she only has four lines. Broken Flowers aims to create a detective puzzle, then can’t be bothered to spring the payoff, instead handing us a rather obvious twist. You can tell from Don’s introduction that he’s lonely and has little to show in life other than money so, like Don, come the end you wonder what the point of the other 89 minutes were.
‘Bus Girls’ is an extended take of the two teenage girls on the bus babbling about random things. Like, whatever.
‘Farmhouse’ is a five minute black and white behind the scenes montage at the farmhouse (duh) with commentary by Jarmusch.
‘Start To Finish: Making Broken Flowers’ is a seven minute montage of just about every clapperboard take, plus some onset buffoonery from Murray which would have been far better put to use in the actual movie. There are also the International and US trailers.