It would be hard for me to recommend this film to some people, even if as a particular film-goer as myself it kept me in my seat as it went by with its deliberate (or slow as most would put it) pace. For an actor like Bill Murray, this is a 180 turn from his classic comedy roles in Caddyshack and Ghostbusters (both films I love for his style of quick witted, instantly quotable lines)- this time, as I've read, he and writer/director Jim Jarmusch took the subtle, subdued approach of Buster Keaton, but done all Murray's way. He continues the sort of 'phase' he's been in starting with Lost in Translation and going somewhat into The Life Acquatic- now his is reactions which make up the best parts, and the occasional zingers work well against the supporting cast.
The reason one might consider Broken Flowers as Jarmusch's most 'mainstream' film is because it is filmed a little more like one, very steady camera-work, and seeming a little more like a Hollywood type film with the cast (Sharon Stone, Francis Conroy, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny, Jeffrey Wright among others). And the story seems like something one might find in a conventional romantic comedy- Murray plays Don Johnston (not Johnson, as a running joke in the film), a fading Don Juan type who is very well off but also rather isolated with himself. Around the same time his current girlfriend leaves him, he finds a mysterious pink colored letter in a pink envelope. Wright, playing an amusing neighbor of Don's, sets him up to go on a search to find the long lost son the letter alludes to. He reluctantly goes on the search.
What is interesting about a filmmaker like Jarmusch, with only a few others I can think of, is that his pace and style and way the film unfolds, my heartbeat never goes too fast or too slow with the rhythm, and it stays consistent. When the climax to the film comes, it's more contemplative than exciting. As Don visits the four women, who each give him something different to offer (if not answering his questions for the 'mystery'), the comedy kicks in, but as with the scenes with Wright's character Winston, it's not often 'laugh-out loud' funny, but the wit is there. Some of it is surprising (the daughter character, Lolita, brings a big laugh), and just strange (Lange's job as an 'animal communicator'), but it's often not so much about hitting for big punches as for more realistic ones. We get long (some might say too long) breaks as Don drives in his car, and then something more comes along. For me, at least, it was rather compelling in a minimalist way, which is what Jarmusch is a master of.
Some have said that the ending was unfulfilled, that it didn't serve a purpose and left the film with unanswered questions. I found the ending to really be even more fulfilling, perhaps on an existential or some kind of unspeakable level, than something that would typically be cooked up in Hollywood. As Murray stand in the street, the camera moving around him and stopping on him, it had me thinking and finally feeling some emotional attachment to Don. Early in the film, he's almost too subdued, and has an upper-middle class status that brings a detachment like with a lead in an Antonioni film. He says he's content with being on his own doing whatever, but by the end he has come full circle. Murray plays these last couple of scenes wonderfully, bringing one to see that the film is not about the usual solving of a mystery of 'who is my son'.
It's about searching, and finding a connectedness to people. This, again, may sound off-putting to people who just want to be simply entertained, and it may be boring &/or pretentious to the core mainstream fans of Murray. But his performance, and Jarmusch's direction, makes its best way in a realm of its own, taking a simple premise and giving it an original take, and substance, and a specific rhythm. In other words, Jarmusch fans need not be frightened that it looks less 'artsy' than a film like Dead Man or Mystery Train, and for those who loved Murray's work in Lost in Translation will find a similar wavelength to cling to.
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