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BROKEN FLOWERS (director: Jim Jarmusch; screenwriters: inspired by an idea from Bill Raden and Sara Driver; cinematographer: Frederick Elmes; editor: Jay Rabinowitz; music: Mulatu Astatke; cast: Bill Murray (Don Johnston), Jeffrey Wright (Winston), Sharon Stone (Laura), Frances Conroy (Dora), Jessica Lange (Carmen), Chloë Sevigny (Carmen’s Assistant), Tilda Swinton (Penny), Heather Alicia Simms (Mona), Julie Delpy (Sherry), Alexis Dziena (Lolita), Christopher McDonald (Ron); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jon Kilik/Stacey Smith; Focus Features; 2005)
“Deadpan funny drama, played against a minimalist backdrop, brings home some simple truths about the desperate lives most people lead.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jim Jarmusch’s deadpan funny drama, played against a minimalist backdrop, brings home some simple truths about the desperate lives most people lead. The deepest it gets philosophizing occurs when Bill Murray responds to a youngster who asks him for tips on what he has learned about life and he responds “The past is gone and the future isn’t here yet. So, all we have is this, the present.” Murray is the lonely Don Juan figure seemingly doomed to live in a “purgatory” of detachment, but is given a chance to try to make sense out of a life that has lost its passion by going back to his salad days to see what he can recoup.

Bill Murray plays Don Johnston, a world-weary Lothario New England dwelling middle-aged wealthy bachelor retiree who made his money in computers but doesn’t currently own one. Not able to communicate his love to his current honey, Sherry (Julie Delpy), she splits. At the same time Don receives a mysterious anonymous letter on pink stationery with an unreadable postmark from an unknown former lover telling him he has a 19-year-old son who is bashful and might be looking for him. Don was a ladies man back then, but now the bored womanizer seems content watching either cartoons or old Douglas Fairbanks movies on his Plasma television. His irrepressible large family working-class Ethiopian next-door neighbor and best friend Winston (Jeffrey Wright), thinks this is important and volunteers to play amateur sleuth by tracking down the possible candidates on the Internet after given a list of five possibilities (one he finds has died). Don, armed with maps and Winston’s Internet files on each woman, flies off to somewhere not named and rents a car to go around New England visiting the four women he hasn’t kept in touch with for 20 years in the hopes he will discover the letter writer. Following Winston’s advice, he brings flowers to each stop and inquires if they have a typewriter.

As empty as is Don’s life, the emptiness of these women’s lives seems even greater. Laura (Sharon Stone) is a widow (her race car driver hubby went up in flames in a crash) with a nymphette daughter taking the literary name of Lolita (Alexis Dziena), who organizes client’s closets for a living; Dora (Frances Conroy), a former hippie, and her square husband Ron (Christopher McDonald) are realtors selling “quality prefab homes;” Carmen (Jessica Lange) has a doctorate and is an “animal communicator”, but is not too good communicating with Don except through her cold vibes; Penny (Tilda Swinton), the most hostile of the group, is a bitchy biker chick. This journey back in time paints a grim picture of reality, where the characters as well as America do not age that well. There’s a mature poignancy in observing Murray’s pathos and, in sharp contrast, observing the natural joy in the idealized Ethiopian family man who believes it’s possible to find what one is looking for. That’s not something that Jarmusch is prepared to answer with a definitive yes or no, the idea being, like in Night on Earth, that it’s the journey that counts more than the answer. What Murray found might indicate that the old notions of romance might be dead, but that doesn’t mean that romance is dead. In fact, it’s viewed as Murray’s one saving grace, even if it’s just now reduced to a leer at a woman’s calves.

It’s the kind of well-observed film that charms and delivers small details about those who go through life emotionally disconnected. Those viewers who can appreciate that not every film has to be neatly wrapped up will be able to see even more than what the filmmaker layed out; that is, depending on their life experiences.

It was the winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes. The film is dedicated to Jean Eustache, the French director of the superb “The Mother and the Whore.” The exotically brilliant music is by the Ethiopian jazz artist Mulatu Astatke.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”