Murray's acting style has become so subtle and so introverted that in
Broken Flowers you watch him for almost two hours going through a
whirlwind tour of his past and never once really have any idea what he is
thinking. His character is so guarded, so numb, that you never know if
he is happy to be on this journey or sad or indifferent. You have no real idea what
he feels about anything he is experiencing. He wears the same mild
grimace of unhappiness and disinterest whether he is waking up alone in a
strange motel room, waking up next to an old lover or waking up after being
beaten unconscious by a couple of toughs.
recognize that this is the point of the character. I also recognize
that writer/director Jim Jarmusch (Down By Law, Night On Earth, Coffee
and Cigarettes) is also an exceedingly quiet, nuanced storyteller who
also tells his stories in small, measured steps, not grand passions.
However, as much as I respect Broken Flowers as a film and it is a
very good one this feeling of total emotional disconnect has the
unfortunate side effect of making it hard to care too much about the movie.
If the lead character seems rather ambivalent about what is happening to
him, how is the audience to care more?
Murray plays Don Johnston (leading to a whole running gag of people mistakenly
thinking he is named after the former Miami Vice star Don Johnson), a
guy who became rich because of some vague past computer innovation that he
will not talk about. He is middle-aged and never has been married,
although we are led to believe that he cut quite a wide swathe with the
ladies. Everyone refers to him as a real Don Juan, (Don Juan - Don
Johnston - get it? They get a lot of mileage out of his name) but
honestly you rarely see what all these women see in him. Don would prefer to
just putter around the house, watching old movies and periodically visiting
his dynamic neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright) and his lively, happy family.
film opens as Don is being dumped by his latest lover (Julie Delpy).
But even as you watch her leaving him you can't tell for sure if he is truly
hurt by this turn of events or just inconvenienced by it. At first, it
seems like he'd rather watch Jose Ferrer in the old movie of Don Juan
(yes, we do have some recurring motifs here...) and even when he follows her
out to try to stop her, when she gives him the opportunity to try to talk
her out of leaving he has nothing to say.
he returns to his house he finds an anonymous letter from an ex-lover saying
that she had his baby twenty years before and that the boy may be looking
for him now. Don greets this revelation with his normal shrug of
indifference. However Winston, who fancies himself a detective, is
intrigued. Winston takes it upon himself to track down the women from
Don's past most likely to have written the letter.
Winston talks Don into flying all around the country to find the exes (and
oddly, one dead ex-lover, who was
unlikely to have been able to type) and
see if he can figure who wrote the note. Jarmusch goes out of his way
to make sure that we have no idea where in the US the story is taking place
at any given time, removing all landmarks or signs from all the scenes.
Even Don's hometown is purposely generic.
This road trip leads Don to
find out what became of the women he once loved. One became the widow
of a NASCAR racer (Sharon Stone) with a jailbait-tease daughter (Alexis Dziena) who is named Lolita, in case you missed the fact that she was a
little temptress. The next has become an uptight real estate exec
(Frances Conroy of Six Feet Under) married to a passive-aggressively
competitive husband (Christopher McDonald). Another has turned into a
new-age veterinarian (Jessica Lange).
Then there is the tough biker chick (Tilda Swinton) who is not too happy to
of the timelines here seem a little skewed. They show a picture that
Don supposedly took of one of the exes (Conroy) and she is a hippie which
means that if he had a baby with her it would now be about 35-years-old, not
twenty. Also, the biker chick (Swinton) looks to be significantly
younger than all the other women he visits.
the end, the visits don't seem to teach him much (in fact, he only comes out
and actually asks the big question of why he is there to one of them.) You
don't seem to even understand if he really wants to know. It is obvious that
he now looks at every twentyish boy as his potential son, however
when he does finally try to talk to one of them he acts so oddly that he
just scares the kid off.
also kind of get an idea why he never lasted with any of these women
beyond the fact that he is a commitment-phobe it appears that he still has a
taste for young girls; he seems more comfortable chatting with Lolita and a
pretty flower store clerk (Pell James) than he does with his former lovers.
Perhaps it is because they are still fresh and striking, however I think it
has more to do with the classic old Thomas McGuane line: "I like young
girls. Their stories are shorter." Don seems uncomfortable
exploring where he has been and where he is going, he's much better at the
surface level stuff.
in the end, the biggest positive in Murray's portrayal kind of works to the
detriment of the movie. He was also inscrutable in Lost In
Translation, but that character was not so cut off from his emotions and
he was not completely unable to have a good time. In Broken Flowers,
you never get the impression that he has learned or experienced or felt much
of anything. Therefore, as much as you may like the eccentric
storytelling style of this movie, it seems a little hollow. The film,
like Don himself, seems to be an empty vessel.
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Posted: August 21, 2005.