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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
A parlor trick to fool the audience into thinking that the mundane is meaningful
After sitting through this movie, I felt I had just seen a bad student film. There's a great premise - modern Don Juan re-visits past to find if something lasting came from his former relationships (in the form of a son), but the most uninteresting choices have been made here. There is almost no character development, no story development that engages the viewer in any significant way, and a cast of characters that are cartoonish in their broadly drawn quirkiness: the aging Don Juan, the out-of-control Lolita, the warm family-man, the biker chic, the lost young man searching for meaning...this is a stable of old characters that take up time and space in this movie, but add nothing of substance.
We are reminded in every possible way that this man is a "Don Juan" and yet NOTHING in the story or character development suggests how someone so broken, so numb, so completely uninterested in life or people, could be that sort of man. We have no idea how or why he has become so broken, and so ultimately don't much care that he is. No light is shed on this at any point - the movie is just one long dip into a stagnant pool of listless nothingness.
I can only imagine that the transitions between scenes of simply fading to black again and again and again, and the endless travel footage (Don in plane, Don in car, Don reading map, Don sleeping in hotel) were one of three things: lack of imagination, self-indulgence or laziness. I can think of no other reasons as this just adds to the stultifying feel of the movie. The parallel between the film's pace and Don's life seems like an amateurish parlor trick to fool the audience into thinking that the mundane is meaningful - not in this movie! Here, the mundane is just plain old boring. All the symbolism is lurid in its obviousness (ex: Don watching the old/original "Don Juan" movie on TV as his life unravels) while the character/story development is so subtle as to be non-existent.
I could not imagine a more uninteresting use of major acting talent (not just Bill Murray, but the whole cast). In so many instances, the Don Juan theme seems a license for the director to show off the physical attributes of younger women - how else can naked Lolita possibly be justified in this story. Oddly, it doesn't seem to be Bill Murray's Don himself who is interested in these women, making the display of skin even more gratuitous.
I'm guessing the lack of resolution at the end was supposed to be indicative of Don's ambivalence about life's direction, but it just looked/felt like the scriptwriter had run out of ideas and so ended the movie. We were quite unsure that the movie had actually ended, and I felt so cheated as I left my seat. $9 and 2 hours of my time spent with characters I didn't get to know or like, and a story that went nowhere in the worst way - UGH!
If this had in fact been a student film, any good professor would have suggested that Jarmusch trim the self-conscious "subtlety" and develop a story worth watching.
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