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8 reviews, 38 user ratings

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Broken Flowers
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by Peter Sobczynski

"You can't go to your ex-girlfriends home again either"
5 stars

I suspect that there will be very few reviews of “Broken Flowers” that don’t mention Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” at some point and not just because both films feature Bill Murray as an emotionally reticent character coming to a crossroads in his existence. Both films tell their stories using a minimalist approach that refuses to push the buttons that most films would go for in order to provoke a response from viewers. Both defy normal cinematic conventions by blending low-key humor with low-key drama without ever tipping the balance too far in either direction. Both feature seemingly simple stories that wind up going off in unexpected directions. Most importantly, both are among the great films of their respective years and are anchored by performances by Murray that remind us once again that he is among the finest actors working today.

Murray plays Don Johnston, a man who has apparently devoted a good part of his life to chasing anyone wearing a skirt, a process no doubt made easier in subsequent years from a fortune made in computers. However, it doesn’t appear that a life of wine, women and song has been a particularly joyous one–when we first see him, he is sitting in his tastefully antiseptic living room blankly watching the television while his latest girlfriend (Julie Delpy) is packing her stuff to leave him for good, accusing him of being “an over-the-hill Don Juan.” Just then, the mail arrives and includes a strange pink envelope. It contains an unsigned note from someone claiming to be an old girlfriend from 20 years earlier. According to the note, when they broke up, she was pregnant with a son–now, armed with the precious little information that he has gleaned over the years, the kid has gone off on a road trip that appears to be a search for Don.<

For Don, this news hardly registers at all–he talks himself into believing that it is nothing more than a joke and can barely bring himself to speculate that he might have a kid. For Winston (Jeffrey Wright), his next-door neighbor whose sprawling family is a living rebuke to Don’s sterile existence, the note is an irresistible mystery that must be solved. An amateur sleuth, he gets Don to make a list of all the women he was seeing back then and, using his computer, he manages to track down the whereabouts of all five of them (four living and one dead). His idea is for Don to go on a trip to visit these women, using an itinerary provided by Mapquest, and look for clues (a typewriter, pink stationary, etc.) that will allow him to determine which of these women sent him the note. Don hates the idea–he even offers to pay Winston to take the trip for him–but inevitably finds himself hitting the road to visit them.<

His first stop is in a white-trash neighborhood to visit Laura (Sharon Stone), the emotionally needy widow of a NASCAR driver who works as a closet organizer to support her and hot-to-trot daughter Lolita (Alexis Dziena), a girl who has never heard of the literary source for her name but who seems hell-bent on unconsciously emulating her in ways that will eventually wear out the freeze-frame buttons on countless DVD players. Don next pays a visit to Dora (Frances Conroy), a former free spirit who has transformed herself into a real estate agent who lives in the kind of house that make Don’s look homey and lived-in by comparison (the wall features a painting of the house it is hanging in) with a husband (Christopher MacDonald) who insists, in his own low-key manner, of subtly reminding Don who wound up with her. From there, Don meets up with Carmen (Jessica Lange), a former lawyer who has transformed into a pet therapist and who still seethes below the surface over some unspoken hurt. There is nothing below the surface in the reaction of Penny (a virtually unrecognizable Tilda Swinton)–her rage at Don is still white-hot after two decades.<

Whether Don learns which one of these women, if any, sent him the letter is something that I will leave for you to discover. However, this is the kind of film where the resolution of the journey is less important than the journey itself. While Don is ostensibly looking for the mother of his child, that isn’t really the reason why he is going on this quest–if it were, he would just flat-out ask each woman if they had a kid or not. What he is really looking for is a glimpse oh what might have been–having chosen a life of heedless narcissism that has left him utterly alone, he is using the trip to see what might have been if he had picked one of these wildly different women. There is the sense, for example, that he dodged a bullet with Laura and that things might not have changed too greatly if he wound up with Dora. With Carmen, he begins to feel a genuine spark with Carmen during his few minutes with her, at least until he realizes that his old moves no longer have the same effect when they are used on someone who already has seen how they wind up. As for Penny, it is clearly evident that she must have loved him deeply–no one could get that enraged over the sight of an old boyfriend that they felt nothing for.<

“Broken Flowers” was written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, one of the few genuinely independent American filmmakers at work today–he raises the funds for each film individually and personally owns the negatives. In the past, many of his films have taken one of two approaches–they are either multi-story works that explore a single story idea through the viewpoints of wildly different characters (“Mystery Train,” “Night on Earth” and “Coffee and Cigarettes”) or single-story narratives that take a cockeyed look at a traditional film genre (his brilliant “Dead Man” deconstructed the Western while “Ghost Dog” was a collision between samurai epics and gangster sagas). With “Broken Flowers,” he has hit upon a formula that allows him to do both at the same time–he uses the film to explore at length the Don Juan mythos, especially its dark side but in a way that allows him to essentially make four mini-movies of the same conceit of a man looking up his old girlfriends.<

What is different this time around is that Jarmusch has created a film that is the most emotionally direct of his career while still maintaining the deadpan absurdist approach that has marked his career ever since he first made a splash with 1984's “Stranger Than Paradise.” In the past, this approach has sometimes dragged his work down to the point where most viewers were left feeling that Jarmusch was so busy demonstrating that he was too hip for the room that he neglected to give them anything to be interested in. Here, however, there is a lot of humor on display but it is the kind of humor that emerges from the material instead of coming from left field to distance viewers from the story at hand. By finding the perfect balance of comedy and drama that he does here, Jarmusch is able to deliver a number of scenes that brilliantly walk the tightrope between the two–the dinner scene between Don, Dora and her husband is a little masterpiece of observational humor that concludes on an unexpectedly touching note.<

Of course, a good portion of this is due to the inspired performance by Bill Murray in a role that Jarmusch wrote especially for him. Although the two worked together once before in one of the better segments of “Coffee and Cigarettes,” the notion of combining a thoroughly deadpan director with an actor whose entire career has been based on detaching himself from his surroundings is one of those ideas that could have ended disastrously. Instead, Murray seems to have responded to Jarmusch in the same way that he has in the past with the likes of Sofia Coppola and Wes Anderson–he has embraced the opportunity to once again stretch as a performer with material that doesn’t simply require him to quip wryly at everything he encounters. He does do some of that and when he gets a laugh line to deliver (“I’m a stalker in a Taurus!”), he can make it seem like the funniest thing you have ever heard. On the other hand, he lets us see the hurt, shame and self-loathing of his character without ever going for a big Oscar-grabbing moment. Working off of a number of excellent actresses, he is able to suggest in a short period of time both what could have attracted them to him in the first place and what could have driven them apart. And there are two scenes towards the end–one being the moment when he visits the grave of the fifth woman and the other being his conversation with a young man (Mark Webber) who may hold the key to everything–which are among the most affecting and moving bits of acting that he has ever given us.

Because it ends on a note that is less conclusive than what is usually seen in films these days, I suspect that some viewers will come away from “Broken Flowers” complaining that “nothing” really happens. (The same thing happened a couple of years earlier with “Lost in Translation.”) It would have been easy for Jarmusch to come up with a happy-go-lucky film in which everything gets wrapped up in a neat little package. If he had, the film still would have been good but it would have lacked a certain inspiration. By taking the risks that he does here, Jarmusch has come up that a film is both one of the very best of this year and his most consistent work since “Dead Man”–a funny and tender observation of a man coming to grips with his past, present and future that contain a lot of laughs, a number of moving moments and a final image that is simply perfect.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12682&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/05/05 00:01:19
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User Comments

1/16/08 Bitchflaps Glacial and sedate. Jarmusch once again proves to be a mere shadow of his former talents. 2 stars
1/02/08 Cinesnob Interesting film--but Bill Murray as a great lover? Come on! 3 stars
6/01/07 ES There's really nothing to this movie, it's completely forgettable and devoid of interest 2 stars
3/27/07 fools&#9835;gold Not as mindblowing as Lost in Translation and Man Who Knew Too Little, but still a great. 5 stars
12/20/06 David Pollastrini The Lolita chick was hot! 3 stars
9/07/06 Thomas Semesky I expected better. 3 stars
8/22/06 Larry Bryant Murray is outstanding, as usual, and loved the supporting cast (although most only came)oI. 4 stars
7/12/06 Marty i really liked Lost in Translation but this one was eh 3 stars
5/29/06 Marce Interesting... 4 stars
5/10/06 millersxing Jeffrey Wright is the best of a stellar ensemble . Jarmusch provokes viewer reflection. 4 stars
4/03/06 Sammie Read great movie! 5 stars
3/20/06 Jen Dull; unfinished; utterly and completely boring. What a waste. 1 stars
3/06/06 Annie G Another movie where Bill Murray seems catatonic ... is that the only way he can act now? 3 stars
2/19/06 Indrid Cold Leads to a satisfyingly ambiguous and meloncholy ending, but pretty darn boring throughout. 3 stars
1/18/06 Elza Hudson BORING, DREADFUL, CRAP! 1 stars
1/17/06 greensweater yawnfest - DVD seemed to be missing a scene at the end :) 2 stars
1/17/06 Sam Boring beyond BELIEF! Bill, try making a facial expression, or are you on Quaaludes? 1 stars
1/15/06 Perry Mason Murray is awesome. All the actresses are awesome. The ending rocks. Yeah it's awesome. 5 stars
11/21/05 Kurtis J. Beard Very good film. Murray is a revalation. 4 stars
10/23/05 Stan Arnold One of the worst films I've ever seen 1 stars
10/20/05 Morten damn why dont they warn people about the ending, (the ending makes the movie worthless) 1 stars
9/06/05 Betty Davis I was most disappointed...the naked teenager was very distasteful. Also, no real ending. 1 stars
8/29/05 lillian needed more emotion incertain areaa 4 stars
8/28/05 jcjs ok, nothing compared to 'lost in translation'...dead pan Murray, slow 'pastizing' 4 stars
8/27/05 malcolm insightful. murray has come a long way. a boneheaded mission though. 3 stars
8/27/05 Caiphn Not for everyone. 3 stars
8/26/05 Maalstrom Interesting story that doesn't finish but the movie is all about character. Rather Moving. 4 stars
8/25/05 Likaswisi Jean Tender, intellectual and funny. Great performances- Wright steals the show. 4 stars
8/25/05 Mike If the main character doesn't care about his past, why should we? A total farce. 1 stars
8/22/05 Kathy So bad that when it was over strangers talked to each other about how bad it was. 1 stars
8/20/05 Don Phillips 30 minutes of shots of Murray driving a car or sitting on a plane. Rest is no good! 1 stars
8/16/05 Kathy Watson Waste of 1 hr 45 min...the audience was very disappointed!! 2 stars
8/15/05 Jim The Movie Freak a middle-aged version of High Fidelity with a perfect ending. Tad overrated still great! 4 stars
8/12/05 Mark Not a work of art, but a decent entertainment 3 stars
8/11/05 bonnie mcfadden come on! I was thinking about my auction on eBay half the time! 2 stars
8/02/05 Elitza Premiered in TC, MI--great flick! 5 stars
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  05-Aug-2005 (R)
  DVD: 03-Jan-2006



Directed by
  Jim Jarmusch

Written by
  Jim Jarmusch

  Bill Murray
  Jeffrey Wright
  Frances Conroy
  Sharon Stone
  Jessica Lange
  Tilda Swinton

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