This latest film from Jim Jarmusch stars Bill Murray. One thing about Bill Murray is that everyone likes him, from the hipsters who enjoy his work with cool directors such as Jarmusch, Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola, to the connoisseurs of broad guy-movie fare such as “Stripes” and “Caddyshack”. His appeal transcends race and gender, as well. His persona turns out to be an excellent fit for Jarmusch’s wryly observational style, so that though it’s a “Bill Murray movie”, “Flowers” remains unmistakably a Jarmusch film.
Murray plays Don Johnston (with the “t”: fun with names is a motif), an “over-the-hill Don Juan”, as his current girlfriend calls him as she’s walking out the door (she’s twenty years younger and played by the great Julie Delpy in what amounts to a cameo). Don’s made a bundle in computers though he exhibits no outward manifestations of wealth. One morning a letter drops through his door slot from an anonymous ex-flame informing him that he has a teenage son and that said son is on his way to visit him. His neighbor and best friend Winston persuades Don to draw up a list of the women who could conceivably be the mother and pay them a visit, to learn as much as he can before his son arrives. Winston promises to watch Don’s house should his son arrive while he’s on his journey.
Murray’s expressive face conveys a tremendous amount wordlessly, particularly in his interactions with youth (or lack thereof). On a bus, Don observes two young women cooing over a thrilling young man seated in the back. Based only on Murray’s look and Jarmusch’s montage, I ascribed to Don an inner monologue: “That young man was me, once upon a time. In fact, he could very well be my son on his way to visit me”. In any event, the young man is on an adventure, about to create new memories, whilst Don is being “borne back ceaselessly into the past”, as Fitzgerald would have it. In another scene, Don, seated in an airport terminal, observes a young stewardess working on a crossword puzzle. She’s clearly stymied and on the verge of asking him for help with a clue, but hesitates. There’s no doubt that in another era Don would’ve spoken to her. Now he says nothing.
“Broken Flowers” is a showcase for the talents of aging actresses for whom Hollywood can’t always find a role. There’s the always brilliant Tilda Swinton, here with her British accent disengaged; Francis Conroy of “Six Feet Under”; Jessica Lange; and even Sharon Stone, who I’ve never thought was particularly good before but who is perfectly cast here. Though Don never stayed in touch with any of them and has never been able to sustain a relationship, evidence is provided that he cared deeply for them in a moving (and again largely wordless) scene set in a graveyard.
There are some big laughs in “Broken Flowers” but the film is ultimately as sad as it is funny. It’s an elegiac mystery, haunted by the past. You don’t quite know what to make of when it’s over. Then over ensuing days it quietly takes up residence in your consciousness.
- Aug 14, 2005