In lieu of Flowers,...
Review: Broken Flowers
|Bill Murray waits... and waits... and waits some more in Broken Flowers.|
Two masters of deadpan join forces in Broken Flowers. The result, while obviously dead in the pan, is also nearly dead in the water.
Broken Flowers has a great bunch of actors, most of whom are a little too wilted for the characters they play. This story of a man looking up the women he dated 20 years ago would have been more interesting if the people were 40-ish rather than 50-ish. Had they known each other at 20 they would have seemed more different at 40.
Bill Murray, still bitter about losing that Oscar, won't earn another nomination with his lethargic portrayal of Don Johnston ("with a T," he has to inform new acquaintances). He's described by Sherry (Julie Delpy) on her way out of his life as "an over-the-hill Don Juan....It's like I'm your mistress but you're not even married"; but it's hard to imagine him summoning the energy to pursue a woman, let alone her being drawn to him.
Don receives an anonymous letter, typed on pink paper, from someone who says they were a couple 20 years ago and she was pregnant with his son when they broke up. She's writing because the boy is curious and may track Don down.
It's a mystery Don might blow off, at least until the youth appears on his doorstep, but Winston (Jeffrey Wright), his next-door neighbor and best (only) friend, is a fan of detective stories (though when he gets to read them, with "three jobs and five kids," is a whole 'nother mystery).
Winston tracks down the women Don remembers from the period in question, four living and one now deceased, and plans a road trip for Don, complete with plane and car rental reservations. Don says he won't go, then does.
The first part of the film is generous with long takes of Don sitting or lying on his living room couch. Once he hits the road they're replaced by long takes of Don sitting on planes and driving through generic countryside and neighborhoods.
The women don't always get as much screen time but they're all terrific actresses and aren't allowed to wear out their welcomes. It's probably best not to discuss them individually as that would spoil what few surprises the film holds. So I'll just name them and let you draw your own conclusions, at least one of which should be pretty accurate and at least one completely off the mark: Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton.
The production design is very important to a film like Broken Flowers, in which the protagonist studies each location for clues and sometimes their homes say more about the women than they say about themselves.
With the miserable (but it has a cult) The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou between Lost in Translation and this, Bill Murray has gone from hero to zero faster than Kevin Costner.
As for Jarmusch, he showed in last year's Coffee and Cigarettes that his quirky style can be easier to take in small doses. He's made some great features too but when he misfires it's reassuring to know he'll try again in ten minutes or less.
Meeting a boy who could be his son Don tells him we can't change the past and don't know about the future, so "All there is is this." Unfortunately the same is true of Broken Flowers, and "this" is not enough.
Steve Warren is a local actor and film reviewer. His reviews can also be seen weekly in the Sunday Paper.