BROKEN FLOWERS (2005)
Running Time: 106 mins. Rating: xx Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Distributor: Focus Features
Cast: Bill Murray, Julie Delphy, Jeffrey Wright, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Christopher McDonald, Chloe Sevigny, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton, Larry Fessenden
Visiting Planet Non Sequitur With Bill Murray
If you have something to do you might not appreciate a friend’s suggestion that you accompany them on a road trip with no set destination just for the hell of a ride. Then again, if you have nothing better to do it might be just the thing. Likewise, if you don’t mind visiting planet non sequitur taking the BROKEN FLOWERS ride will be somewhat rewarding. If on the other hand you’ve got plenty on your plate and you demand a certain modicum of logic you might find BROKEN FLOWERS terminally aggravating.
The set up is that an aging Don Juan (we’re told he is or was a Don Juan and we just have to accept that as a fact without the slightest indication that he was or that it had any effect, either salutary or otherwise, on him) receives an unsigned letter telling him that a 19 year old son that he never knew he had was out looking for him. The Don Juan, actually Don Johnstone (several excellent puns there), is played by Bill Murray who acts like he’s had his nervous system eviscerated. His next door neighbor, Winston (Jeffery Wright), (their names rhyme and they are exact opposites), is a wannabe mystery writer and is intrigued by the letter and in order to solve the mystery of who sent the letter he plots an itinerary to visit the four surviving possibilities, i.e. his lovers from 20 years before.
Of course logic here flies out the window if one were to consider 1. Why would the letter writer not sign her name? 2. Why wouldn’t she simply tell her determined son who his father is and where he could find him, and 3. Why does he have to track down the letter writer when he merely has to wait to be found? If this were to happen then the movie wouldn’t exist as per the question John Ford was always asked about why the Indians didn’t just shoot the horses in the famous chase scene in STAGECOACH.
When he goes to visit each of the women he simply doesn’t say “I received this letter the other day. Did you send it? Are you the mother of my son?” I don’t want to be unfair to director Jarmusch, (though to be honest and in the spirit of Full Disclosure he has been to me in the past), he does want to take you on a little trip and you just have to accept the premise to go where he wants you to go, to see what he wants you to see and experience what he wants you to experience, so that at the end the resolution of the story is Don Johnston’s recovering the ability to feel again. However bogus the letter, the story, the mise en scene (all of the airport scenes are Newark Airport, almost all of the sites visited and roads traveled are in the Ulster County, New York vicinity except the ending which seems to be unfamiliar, and, from the license plates, may be in Massachusetts), the logic, the time line (more like twenty years from 1990, maybe), the beauty of the ex’s, the ease with which Winston found them online, (not as easy a task as shown) and even the very character of Don Johnstone shouldn’t bother an interested viewer any more than trying to figure out who exactly it was who heard Charles Foster Kane say “Rosebud.” Just go along for the ride. All of the action is internal, the logic frankly dreamlike. It can be discarded like a chrysalis, with Bill Murray the fully emerged butterfly at the end.
The acting is first rate along the way. Sharon Stone looks beautiful and not the hard and perfect Sharon Stone as in the past. No longer a bitch goddess, she now walks among us mere mortals. She is the widow of a racing driver and is named Laura which is something of an inside joke as it is a reference to a lachrymose 50s ditty called TELL LAURA I LOVE HER. Her daughter, whose appearance in this film is outstanding, is named Lolita and wears heart shaped earrings as per Sue Lyon’s sunglasses in the Kubrick version. Francis Conroy and Christopher McDonald in a sterile tract McMansion have a semi comatose contest with Murray and believe me nobody wins. Jessica Lange as a professional animal communicator can’t seem to communicate with humans except for the suggestion of something going on with her receptionist, an unrecognizable Chloe Sevigny. And Tilda Swinton is the most enigmatic and the biggest non sequitur of all but at least provides the road trips punch line.
The whole point to the story is, naturally, is at the end of the picture. There is something in the external world that can burrow through the seemingly impenetrable shell of his crippled personality. He can feel something.
Like all good road trips, this one ends where it began and the main souvenir is the experience itself. So too is BROKEN FLOWERS, a trip, like an acid trip from which you don’t bring back snow globes or tee shirts, but something intangible but valuable and something which become indelibly part of oneself.
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