Broken Flowers is celebrated indie auteur Jim Jarmuschs latest offering since last years collection of personal vignettes, Coffee and Cigarettes. As writer-director of his most commercial film to date, this offbeat dramedy promises to encompass everything weve come to expect from Jarmusch and his idiosyncratic views on growth, adult relationships and life.
Don Johnston (Bill Murray) is a jaded and aging Lothario residing in a quiet suburban neighbourhood with his girlfriend (Julie Delpy) during his retirement. Unfortunately for him, he receives a distinctively pink letter on the same day that his girlfriend leaves him. That letter alludes to a 19-year-old son whos looking for him. Unsigned and with no discernable characteristics, the note leaves him to ponder which of the women he had slept with 20 years ago is the mother of his bastard son. His best friend, Winston (Jeffrey Wright) who moonlights as an amateur sleuth urges the ambivalent Don to track down the series of women scattered throughout the country to find out which of them sent the pink letter.
The 4 former flames are introduced chronologically as Don tracks them down, without any prior notice, in his rented car. The first of these is a single mum of a promiscuous teen aptly named Lolita (Alexis Dziena). The mother (Sharon Stone) is a lonely widow of a NASCAR driver who shows surprising appreciation for Dons unexpected visit. Satisfied that she wasnt the person he was looking for, he drives cross-country to visit the next woman on his list played by Frances Conroy (from Six Feet Under), She is a stark contrast to the previous woman, giving us a glimpse into the type of women that Don has had encounters with in the past. After a brief dinner with her and her husband, Don quickly moves on to the next flame as he starts losing hope.
Jessica Lange plays the penultimate person on the list compiled by Winston. As a successful animal communicator, her scenes provide some of the most awkward and amusing moments in the film such as her cat, Winston that manages to understand Langes character. As Don is left without answers once again, he hopelessly makes his way to meet the final woman, a biker chick (icy star of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe, Tilda Swinton). This encounter proves to be the most intriguing as unlike the rest of his ex-girlfriends, his break-up with her was acrimonious and he isnt greeted as amiably as he hopes.
Each fascinating reunion offers up subtle hints to each relationships failure and the lives these women now lead. During these visits, Don keeps a watchful eye for details that could establish the link with the letter he received. Several red herrings are thrown in to keep a sense of mystery throughout the film, but the real hints come from the understated interactions that Don has with these women.
Masquerading as a film about finding somebody, its actually an exploration of ones self and is very much a character study of a despondent Don Juan figure who has not made any attempt to reconnect to a life he once had. Don is a stoic and unflinching witness to his own life as he begins his search with quiet enthusiasm. Through the opening scenes, its quickly discernable that he is going through the motions in his life as we see him in his track suit in front of the television, oblivious and unfazed by his girlfriend leaving him. Realising his predicament, he tries to rewrite the last few decades of his life though a singular road trip down memory lane and finds out that he might just be the only person in his life that is still stuck in neutral.
With Bill Murray in mind, Jarmusch has created an extremely humane and sympathetic character that becomes more involving as the film goes on. Maximising Murrays talents for minimising and underplaying his characters, Dons reserved demeanour and unexpressive persona is excellently portrayed with remarkable restraint by the actor. He sports a deadpan countenance that looks like he has been nursing a perpetual hangover and only through the rare occasions of laconic inflection and brief expressions through his doleful eyes do we see the full scope of his melancholy.
Even as a character study, the films supporting characters are well-defined. Particularly, Winston played by the vastly underrated Jeffrey Wright who most notably played a gay New Yorker in the 80s closely connected to the AIDS epidemic of the time in HBOs Angels in America. This time around, he is a first-generation Ethiopian immigrant who works 3 jobs and still pursues his passion and zest for detective work. The most important aspect of his character is that he is a staunch family man with a loving wife and 5 kids. It provides an interesting perspective for Don as his friendship with Winston is a constant reminder for him to see what could have been. Don looks to him to reflect his own inadequacies due to his wanton relationships with women.
Although the 4 women introduced are distinctive and have their own voices, the writing does tend to steer towards stereotypes. For example, Frances Conroys unhappy realtor seemingly stuck in a loveless marriage harks back to American Beauty or Tilda Swintons abrasive redneck character that ends up getting Don socked in the eye. Through Jarmuschs episodic style of narrative, each encounter does not precede anything more than whats on view and we are left with incomplete shards of characters that dont transcend its clichs.
Although Jarmuschs least strident film, it probably has the most anti-climatic ending in recent history, which should potentially infuriate or delight audiences. The ending rams home the films primary message of appreciating the journey more than the destination. In a person's life, opportunities arise to offer somebody a chance to find out and define who they are or who they want to be. Combining Bill Murrays tremendous acting chops with a formidable female cast has demonstrated a masterstroke from its director and this is 1 of the better movies this year. Dont leave the cinema too early as the credits offer a fantastic insight into the ending.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Just posted a review of The Constant Gardener and thought I'd share another of a gem. Murray's understated performance actually in many respects outshined that of his character in Lost in Translation. Layered yet easily discerned, he manages to make his character vulnerable yet strangely jaded in his quest for meaning and perhaps the mistake that wasn't.