Skip to main content
The Independent Critic

Bill Murray, Sharon Stone, Jeffrey Wright, Julie Delpy, Alexis Dzenia, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton
Jim Jarmusch
Rated R
106 Mins.
Focus Features
 "Broken Flowers" Review 
Add to favorites
Jim Jarmusch's latest film, "Broken Flowers," won the Grand Prize of the Jury at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, recognition that began Oscar talk for the often critically acclaimed Jarmusch, a minimalist director whose penchant for poetic cinematography, black & white photography and quirky characters makes him a prime candidate for critical acclaim but unlikely to attain any degree of box-office success.

"Broken Flowers" is unlikely to make Jarmusch a household name, however, it is a sign of of directorial growth and a film that begs to be watched, if only for the latest mid-life crisis role from Bill Murray and the often funny performance from Jeffrey Wright as his best friend, Winston.

In "Broken Flowers," Murray portrays Don Johnston (with a "T", as he notes often), a former Don Juan who has it made financially due to success in computers, even though he doesn't have a computer in his own home. As the film opens, Johnston is watching yet another girlfriend leave (Julie Delpy) and while he verbalizes caring he can't seem to invest himself in any sort of intervention to prevent her departure.

Much has been made of Murray's recent roles that are similar in tone to Johnston...most notably, in the recent "Lost in Translation," another film that looked at relationships, connections and the stages in life. Yet, I find myself most impressed with this is far from a monotone performance, instead choosing to express its emotion through looks, body language, simple gestures and actions. Few, if any, directors can present the mundane realities of life as well as Jim Jarmusch and this film is an exemplary example of Jarmusch's gift presenting life "as is", without allowing histrionics or drama to get in the way.

Johnston receives a letter, unsigned, on the day that his latest girlfriend leaves. The letter implies that he has a son who may, in fact, be looking for him. Murray's Johnston is clearly moved by this possibility, but again has difficulty investing himself in any resolution. Instead, his Jamaican neighbor Winston begins exploring and attempting to discover who may have written the letter. Winston is sort of the "anti-Johnston," a happily married family man with several children and three jobs. Whereas Johnston has resigned himself most days to sitting on his couch doing nothing, Winston is constantly doing something.

With Winston's prodding, Johnston sets off on a journey to visit the five potential women who could have written the letter, including a visit to the grave of one of the five.

Jarmusch, who also wrote the script, never takes the easy way out in his films. Hilarious situations, intense action or catharsis would be too, in a Jarmusch film it is often as simple as characters presenting themselves as they really are...not living in the past, not focused on the future...Jarmusch presents his characters in the now.

Along the way, Johnston encounters these past relationships and we see glimpses, sometimes brief and painful glimpses, of the way he was and the spark that never actually died. All of these women connected, clearly, with Johnston yet each clearly had a different emotional experience that stayed with him. Was he a true Don Juan or simply a wounded child who, despite his statements to the contrary, could never actually commit himself to the present? It's hard to say, but entertaining and moving to watch.

First, he encounters Sharon Stone's "Laura," in Stone's best performance in years as a widow (of a race car driver) who now organizes people's closets for a living. Alexis Dziena plays her daughter, aptly named Lolita, a young woman who may be mirroring the woman her mother once was and, in many ways, the attraction she once felt for Johnston. It's a sparse, yet focused scene that is, unfortunately, never truly matched again by Jarmusch in the film.

Next, Johnston moves on to Dora (Frances Conroy), who is now married to Ron and they work together in real estate selling pre-fab homes. Whereas Laura lived in a world of earthy authenticity, Dora's world feels plastic and uncomfortable. Her husband, played by Christopher McDonald (who finally is starting to shake that "Happy Gilmore" performance), seems to be constantly trying to sell...himself, the relationship, his name it.

Next, Johnston visits Carmen (Jessica Lange), an animal communicator with a protective assistant (Chloe Sevigny). As I was watching "Broken Flowers," I began to get the sense that these relationships were, in fact, being presented in order giving us an insight into the emotional decline of Johnston himself. By the end of his journey, Johnston is emotionally and physically bruised...he has gone from great freedom and passion to fear and conflict and pain. It becomes easy to understand Johnston's journey and why it leaves him crumpled and lonely on the couch. The brief, closing encounter with Penny (Tilda Swinton) is one of bitterness, anger, disappointment and is sad to watch because it is obvious that it led to his relationship that had, in fact, just ended back home.

So often in films today, audiences are spoon fed by filmmakers who drown their films in overwrought drama and forced melodrama surrounded by millions of dollars in special effects and set design. A Jarmusch film, on the other hand, is often an exercise in patience, listening and independent thought.

Yet, all is not perfect in "Broken Flowers." Too often, Jarmusch is content to weave together photographic moments that are focused more on atmosphere than enhancing the film itself. It occasionally feels as if we are watching a photo essay rather than a film...likewise, the film's score becomes a tad repetitive and distracting towards the film's end. Additionally, the supporting characters (mostly the women) are just a touch under-written, not in dialogue, but in character development. Jarmusch's minimalist dialogue works beautifully, but allowing further character development would have enabled the audience to become more invested in the journey. Of course, it's hard to deny that this lack of investment played very well as a mirror to Johnston's own journey. This may have actually been Jarmusch's intent, however, I still found it somewhat disconcerting.

One seldom expects true resolution in a Jarmusch film, so the rather abrupt ending was neither a surprise nor a disappointment. It is as if Jarmusch reinforced to the very end that this is our journey and it's all we have. It is neither good nor simply is.

"Broken Flowers" is one of Jim Jarmusch's finer films, and continues Murray's string of recent marvelous performances. It is a film of simplicity, grace and patient acceptance of the journey of life as it unfolds. Always interesting, often funny and occasionally painful, "Broken Flowers" blossoms as it unfolds.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic