Broken Flowers review by Tom Blain

Broken Flowers is a brilliant little detective story in which aging ladies man Don Johnston (Bill Murray) enters upon a journey to find the truth about his past. One day he receives a letter typed on pink paper. The letter is from a woman, who leaves no name but confesses to Johnston that she gave birth to his son eighteen years ago. Now the boy has left home and may be searching for his unknown father. Johnston seems somewhat un-phased by the idea until his detective obsessed neighbor Winston (Jeffery Wright) begins looking for clues. Johnston digs into his past and finds five women whom, if the note is legitimate, could have possibly conceived a child within the proper time period. The ever energetic Winston charts Don's journey (car rentals and sleazy hotels included) across the U.S. with a mission to pick up as many clues as possible without letting on knowledge of the pink note.

With each visit, Don seems to draw up old memories in each of the women, but never really reveals many memories of his own. His taste in women seems very broad. There is no common bond between any of them other than the fact that each one seems very odd, and seems to have something to hide. Some are professionals (the realtor, the pet psychic), and some are trashy (the mother with the Lolita and the woman who lived in the middle of nowhere). In each woman, he finds evidence such as type writers, pink items, and in general suspicious behavior, but who is the mysterious mother? Does she exist? Or was it a hoax?

Don Johnston turns out to be a pretty boring guy for such a ladies man. In his spare time (which is all the time since he retired early) he sits and watches TV or listens to the opera in a rather cold home. His interactions with other people are minimal and based purely on gathering necessary information. He seems to have developed a strong bond with Winston and his family but even that bond seems flexible.

The whole movie I wondered how someone so quiet and still could be a Don Juan even into his 50s. The five women he visits dont seem to react to him any differently so that says to me that he has always acted this way. They had a typical odd reaction to him since he stopped by each house unannounced, but in most cases, his personality seemed match up with their expectations. What is interesting about his character is that it seems since his 30s even, he was searching for something. He is searching for the fruit of his loins now, but if you think about all the women he dated and how they all had nothing in common (even looks), you can deduce that he was always moving on or looking for something new.

His investigations are somewhat unfair however; probably as unfair as his relationships. Don is shut in and offers up no information about himself. He lets no one inside his head and does not open up to a single one of his lovely ladies. Yet he looks to inspect each of these women to find some sort of truth. Other than a dozen pink roses, he never offers them much. Not even information about himself, information about his journey, or anything he is feeling. He is a closed off and locked in; a sad man who cant appear to find happiness. As his investigation gets further, he starts to become more emotionally invested in finding his son as opposed to just finding who wrote the note.

The combination of Jim Jarmusch and Bill Murray is odd to me. I will always see Jim Jarmusch as the director of Tom Waits and Rod Lurie in Down By Law (a low budget movie I would say pictures New Orleans the best in both city and character). Murray did play a small part in Jarmuschs last movie Coffee and Cigarettes but played that cameo played more to his usual oddball comic self. In Broken Flowers he is a more depressed, secluded version of his Rushmore or Lost In Translation character. I think the pairing works in this case but I still get a kick out of seeing Murray in a role that doesnt involve green slime. Its enjoyable to see how he has branched out and I hope he gets proper recognition for his work.

As far as direction, Id say this is some of Jarmuschs best. He is the type of director that keeps the pace slow with the intent to develop his characters. This might drive some people (cough*MATTFUERST*cough) crazy and for that reason he will never be a mainstream director. But thats also a good thing. His pace and imagery allows us to spy on the quiet Johnston and also allows us to digest the clues left in the film. In the end, it is a piece of film that is hard to walk away from. It sticks in your head for a while and keeps you thinking as you drive home. I found Broken Flowers to be very enjoyable as it was a movie I was really geared up to see for some time and it met my expectations.




8 out of 10 Jackasses
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