Broken Flowers Movie Review
After 30 years as a film comedian, Bill Murray has found a brilliant second wind as a character actor, playing deeply soulful middle-aged sad sacks. In "Broken Flowers," he gives an ennui-driven, understated performance every bit as good as his weary movie star from "Lost in Translation" and his weary oceanographer from "The Life Aquatic" -- this time playing Don Johnston, a graying suburban lothario who receives an anonymous letter from a long-ago lover telling him he has a 19-year-old son.
This sets him off on a journey to find the mother and meet his progeny, but the investigation (and resulting self-examination) isn't Don's idea. He would just as soon let this knowledge eat away at him as he rots hopelessly on the leather couch in his living room, which looks like a museum to the moment in the late 1970s when he stopped paying attention to the changing world around him (track suits are his preferred attire). It's his wannabe-gumshoe next-door neighbor (the always sublime Jeffrey Wright) who begins Googling Don's ex-girlfriends, digging up their home addresses, printing out maps from the internet, planning an itinerary and buying his friend plane tickets.
Reluctantly traveling around the country (always ending up with the same nondescript rental car in every city) and dropping in on these exes, non-confrontational Don tries to divine if each woman is the furtive mother, stirring up a whirlpool of uncomfortable old feelings in the process.
Murray perfectly embodies Don's backward-looking restlessness, melancholy and regret. But as Don tries to push himself in a forward direction (very much against his natural current), Murray seems imbued with his sense of whimsy and fading wounded-puppy magnetism, which are clearly what once drew so many lovers to him in the first place.
The women from his past are just as fully fleshed and emotionally complex. Sharon Stone hits one out of the park as a lower-middle-class NASCAR widow with a sweet little tart of a teenage daughter (appropriately named Lolita). Frances Conroy plays a former hippie, now a prim, soft-spoken wife who, along with her husband, buys and sells McMansions in over-manicured new subdivisions. Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton make shorter but equally memorable appearances as a loopy pet psychic and a bitter white-trash biker's wife.
Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch ("Dead Man," "Ghost Dog," "Coffee & Cigarettes") with his distinctive flair for deceptive simplicity and a structure (and soundtrack) amusingly reminiscent of pulpy noir detective stories, "Broken Flowers" may seem at first to be anchored in its road-trip gimmick. It's easy to wonder why Don doesn't just stay at home, make a few phone calls and ask a few direct questions.
But beneath this thin veneer of convention, the film has a bottomless poignancy that Jarmusch cements in quiet character moments (Murray staring at a glass of wine on his coffee table, at a loss for motivation, or smiling reminiscently at a gaggle of giggling teenage girls), and in symbolic imagery (frequent glances in the rental cars' rear view mirrors, always looking backward even as Don moves forward), and in out-of-reach temptations (Lolita isn't the only unattainably young beauty to cross Don's path) that wiggle effectively into the subconscious.
While "Broken Flowers" is not quite the masterpiece its best notices imply, it is a movie that sticks to your ribs, and in your psyche. Long after building to a finale of perfect audience-character synchronicity -- which leaves Don ironically more perplexed than ever but more clear-headed at the same time -- you can still taste the film's mood like a delicious meal.