Sunday, January 08, 2006

Movie Review: Broken Flowers

U.S. Release Date: 8/5/05 (limited)
Running Time: 1:46
Rated: R (Language, some graphic nudity, and brief drug use)
Cast: Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton, Julie Delpy, Alexis Dziena, Christopher McDonald, Chloë Sevigny

Director: Jim Jarmusch
Producers: Jim Jarmusch, Jon Kilik, Stacey E. Smith
Screenplay: Jim Jarmusch
Music: Mulatu Astatke
Studio: Focus Features

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With Broken Flowers, Jim Jarmusch has apparently graduated from making independent art-house films (like his anthology Coffee and Cigarettes) and has chosen to concentrate on a more mainstream approach with an exceptional actor. However, without Bill Murray as the lead (a role that Jarmusch wrote exclusively for him), it is hard to say what Broken Flowers would be. While Flowers is a solid script and a tightly-focused character study, it doesn’t accomplish too much of anything in the long run. Furthermore, the film unexpectedly leaves a bland, rather than an exceedingly saccharine, aftertaste. Perhaps this is precisely what Jim Jarmusch intended, but considering the story closes without a much-needed release or revelation, Broken Flowers comes off as more literary than cinematic.

Don Johnston (Bill Murray) is an over-the-hill Don Juan, who opens a mysterious pink letter—just after his girlfriend, Sherry (Julie Delpy), breaks up with him. The letter – unsigned and without a return address – informs Don that he has a 19-year-old son.

Once Don’s neighbor and wannabe detective, Winston (Jeffrey Wright), sees the letter, he immediately plans Don’s journey to find the four former flames who could potentially be the mother of his “hypothetical” son. Winston tells Don to search for clues, dress conservatively, and also bring flowers.

On this expedition to find the bearer of his son, Don first runs into full-time closet organizer, Laura (Sharon Stone), and her appropriately-named daughter, Lolita (Alexis Dzienza). After rekindling the flame with Laura, Don meets Dora (Frances Conroy), a former hippie who is now one-half of a prosperous real-estate couple. Next, Don visits Carmen (Jessica Lange), an animal communicator who has apparently switched from liking males to females. Lastly, Don sees poverty-stricken Penny (Tilda Swinton), who has nothing to offer but profanities and punches to the face.

While Jarmusch succeeds at showing an off-kilter trek across the nation, he fails to get the audience emotionally involved in his story. However, despite this disunion between the viewer and the main character, it is Murray who makes the picture watchable. And, even though he may be reason enough to see the motion-picture, he isn’t enough to love it.

Yes, Broken Flowers does have its merits in terms of both drama and comedy, and yes, Broken Flowers is Jarmusch’s most comprehensive and laudable film to date, but while fans of Jarmusch’s work will applaud, others will be frustrated with its open-endedness.

Before the film went into the post-production stages, Broken Flowers was entitled Dead Flowers. While “broken” is a better word to use in the title, it is also a viable adjective to use when describing the film. Unfortunately for Jarmusch, the film was not broken beyond repair. With a little fixing here and there, Broken Flowers could have been a deeply evocative and flourishing film. Too bad Jarmusch could not crawl out of the Punch Drunk Love mindset and make Broken Flowers the subtle, subdued, yet sublime feature that audiences pined for. (**1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006