Film-Forward Review: [BROKEN FLOWERS]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Bill Murray as Don Johnston
Photo: Focus

Directed & Written by: Jim Jarmusch.
Produced by: Jon Kilik & Stacey Smith.
Director of Photography: Frederick Elmes.
Edited by: Jay Rabinowitz.
Music by: Mulatu Astatke.
Released by: Focus.
Country of Origin: USA. 106 min. Rated: R.
With: Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton & Julie Delpy.

It's no surprise that a Jim Jarmush film has a great soundtrack; the songs in Broken Flowers are varied and greatly add to the lingering melancholy, especially the opening number, "There is an End," which turns out to be true in more ways than one for Don Johnston (Bill Murray). He receives a letter, with no return address, from an unknown woman warning him not to be surprised if a 19-year-old should come knocking on his door claiming to be his son. Although feigning disinterest, Don shows the letter to his mystery-buff best friend Winston (Jeffrey Wright), who, unlike Don, has settled down with a wife and five children. At Winston's urging, Don writes the names of five women from his past (four are still alive). An amateur detective, Winston makes the arrangements for Don's lone cross-country odyssey to discover the culpirt. His journey will lead him to suburban towns, upscale tract housing, and out in the middle of nowhere. (Upstate New York beautifully stands in for America.)

Broken Flowers is one of the most rueful of American films of late (not unlike Lost in Translation or the other aging-male road trip comedy, Sideways). In the meeting of two likewise minds, Jarmusch's tone is just as deadpan as Murray's performance: as Don sits alone on his couch, sipping a glass of Moet champagne listening to Marvin Gaye croon, "I Want You," you fully get the picture. Here, minimal is more.

The symbolism is also obvious: A teenager named Lolita wears heart-shaped bangles sucking on a Popsicle; after his pink Chanel-clad girlfriend (Julie Delpy) dumps him, Don, dressed in shades of blue, watches The Private Life of Don Juan; and throughout, the production design is a gender-matched pink-and-blue world. However, the writing is mostly understated; for one woman Don's Don, for another, Donnie. And in four succinct sequences, Jarmusch creates distinct relationships with each of Don's ex-girlfriends (played by Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and, too briefly, Tilda Swinton, all in top form) where the audience can instinctually surmise the course of each one (ending, more than likely, with hurt feelings and anger for the woman). Just as he did in Translation, Murray never crosses the line from gently mocking to derision. Fortunately missing here is the bilious rancor from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Though Broken Flowers is certainly as wistful as Translation, it's more somber and less hopeful: a ruder awaking of the present. Kent Turner
August 5, 2005



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