As the extremely withdrawn Don Johnston is dumped by his latest woman, he receives an anonymous letter from a former lover informing him that he has a son who may be looking for him. A freelance sleuth neighbor moves Don to embark on a cross-country search for his old flames in search of answers.
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The resolutely single Don Johnston has just been dumped by his latest lover, Sherry. Don resigns himself to being alone yet again and left to his own devices. Instead, he is compelled to reflect on his past when he receives by mail a mysterious pink letter. It is from an anonymous former lover and informs him that he has a 19-year-old son who may now be looking for his father. Don is urged to investigate this "mystery" by his closest friend and neighbor, Winston, an amateur sleuth and family man. Hesitant to travel at all, Don nonetheless embarks on a cross-country trek in search of clues from four former flames. Unannounced visits to each of these unique women hold new surprises for Don as he haphazardly confronts both his past and, consequently, his present. Written by
Barely dramatic, thematic but enigmatic, that's Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers. His Stranger than Paradise was exactly that, a Cleveland road trip to existential uncertainty. In Broken Flowers, Bill Murray as Don Johnston is also on a trip, but more certain of his goal than anyone in Stranger, for he seeks out his alleged son by visiting former lovers, one of whom anonymously wrote that she had borne him a child 19 years ago.
The formidable women, including a randy Sharon Stone happily lampooning her film persona and Tilda Swinton, tougher and more dangerous than all the others in her biker mom role, never really sway him from seeking his son or finding himself. Beyond discovering that you can't change the past of "an over-the-hill Don Juan," much less understand him, reflected in the depressing but authentic lack of communication with all but one of his wives, Murray may have discovered on his low-key picaresque a truer self than he had ever known before. He may be beaten up physically, he may be unable to close the case of his putative son, and he may have divorced himself from his millionaire persona as a computer whiz, but he remains a deeply calm, lonely wanderer in his effort to solve his case.
An amateur detective, neighbor Winston has the spirit and energy Don does not have, yet Don is deeper and more reflective. In fact he outstrips all of his former loves in kindness and caring in calm response to often explosive situations, for instance when Stone's daughter, Lolita, comes on to him only to find he is not available.
I complain American films are not sophisticated like Euro flicks, but Jarmusch has come close with this slow, laconic, and demanding indie. Hats off to Bill Murray for mixing minimalist with passionate this time aroundhis purpose and his change of character make his aging Hollywood star Bob from Lost in Translation just a dress rehearsal for this Oscar-worthy performance and film.
Perhaps Don's discovery is twofold: his potential to love others and himself. As Alexander Smith declared, "Love is but the discovery of ourselves in others, and the delight in the recognition."
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