Dir/scr: Jim Jarmusch.US. 2005. 106mins
After diversions into genre-subversion like mysticalwestern Dead Man and modern day samurai saga Ghost Dog, Jim Jarmusch makes afull scale return to the kind of lugubrious, meticulously observed comedy thatfirst made his reputation in the 1980s.
Commercial prospects arevery robust for Broken Flowers, a film that fans will take to theirhearts like a long lost friend. Another cherishable study in poker-facedmelancholy from Bill Murray should further enhance its appeal and may even bestrong enough to put him in the Cannes jury's thoughts when it comes todetermining their choice of Best Actor (the film premiered in competition). Avery approachable and likable charmer, Broken Flowers has also injectedsome human warmth in to a competition selection that has been short onemotional involvement or clarity of intention.
A man who has grown oldrather than matured, Don Johnston (Bill Murray) retains an adolescent beliefthat if he loses the love of one woman another will arrive to take her place.The departure of girlfriend Sherry (Julie Delpy) coincides with the arrival ofa mysterious pink letter purporting to be from an old lover and claiming thathe has a teenage son who is now looking to meet his father. The letter isconveniently unsigned and equally convenient is the fact that Johnston'sneighbour Winston (Jeffrey Wright) is an amateur sleuth.
Fears that this may turninto another existential farce like I Heart Huckabees are soon put torest as Winston quickly tracks down Johnston's relevant lady friends from 20years ago and sends him on a road trip to confront his past. Naturally, there'sno way he could simply phone up and ask them. There wouldn't be a film then.
Once the premise has beenestablished, the film allows Johnston to revisit four women and catch asobering glimpse of the different lives he might have lead.
Expressly tailored for BillMurray, Johnston is a character that plays to all of his strengths. Terminallydiffident, he often seems a blank page in which others are encouraged to writetheir own stories. His wry humour flies under the radar of other people'sperceptions and Murray's dry asides and subtle shifts in expression arepriceless. He seems to grow more like Buster Keaton with every film and thereis something very touching as he stands at the side of the road with a bunch ofpicked flowers in his hand, hope in his heart and bewilderment on his features.
Jarmusch's last release, CoffeeAnd Cigarettes, strung together a series of shorts on the joys of nicotineand caffeine. Broken Flowers is also structured as a series ofencounters but has a flow and careful construction that successfully builds ourconcern for Don and what he might discover.
The scenario also allowssome sharp moments from a stellar collection of women as Don meets Laura(Sharon Stone) and her daughter who proves to be Lolita (Alexis Dziena) by nameand by nature. Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under) brings a wistful regretto her role as Dora, a child of the hippy sixties who is now a real estateagent living in antiseptic affluence with her husband.
Murray's Tootsieco-star Jessica Lange seems to be turning into Gena Rowlands before our veryeyes as she plays animal counsellor Carmen and Tilda Swinton has a short butfeisty scene as Penny.
Cumulatively, Don'sencounters lead him to a sense of having missed out on something, ofdiscovering his life is incomplete. The comic tone of the early scenescarefully evaporates to leave us with a sense of yearning.
Where he goes from here nobodyreally knows and Jarmusch isn't about spoil the mood with an easy answer or aflippant punchline. Don is simply left at a crossroads that is both real andmetaphorical.
More conventional than thematerial Jarmusch has created over the past 15 years, Broken Flowers isalso far more accessible and entertaining. He still has a great talent forprecisely observed moments from life that ring with truth and are like bubblingtributaries that feed into a river of contented chuckles.
Murray takes all his chanceswith the material, milking laughter from a simple raised eyebrow, a heavenwardglance or the kind of subtle double-take that would have done Cary Grant proud.It is a performance that will easily sustain the fresh appreciation of histalents that has been ongoing since Lost In Translation.
Five Roses Productions