2005Director: Jim Jarmusch
Cast: Bill Murray, Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton
n The Death of the Hired Man, Robert Frost wrote “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
Though we can’t be sure, the strangely confused and eternally amused gaze that we’ve seen on the face of Bill Murray and the characters that he's played for the last three decades, might just be the look of someone who is lost, lonely, and still looking for home.
Go back to Carl Spackler, one of Murray’s brilliant breakout creations, the filthy and deluded assistant greenskeeper from 1980’s Caddyshack. He is ignored and left to his own devices, dreaming of a Cinderella Masters Championship, plotting against gophers, and working up some hybrid grass—“you can play 36 holes on it in the afternoon, take it home and just get stoned to the bejeezus-belt that night on this stuff.” His house is a rundown tool shed that he cleans with a leaf blower.
"My God, Jesse, I don't remember you being that old..."
Since then, Murray has upgraded. Today, Don Johnston –- his character, the main flower-bearer in Jim Jarmusch’s deliberate, odd, and beautiful new movie Broken Flowers—lives in a large well-decorated, well-kept house that, with everything in its right place, might suit the pages of Architectural Digest. The immaculate setting magnifies the plain fact that Don, while not necessarily depressed, is certainly alone and, as far as we can see, without purpose.
Yet, despite their vastly different habitats, both of Murray’s creations are similarly solitary and, it seems, incomplete animals. Today, Johnston sets out to revisit old romances and discover the truth about a possibly long lost son; 25 years earlier Spackler set out to protect the Country Club and destroy its insidious “varmint poontang.” Whatever you gotta do.
Don’s story begins when he gets an anonymous letter on pink stationary from a woman who claims to be a former lover. She informs Johnston, that, FYI, he may have a son, now 19, who may be searching for him. That’s all: just a heads up.
Pressured by his curious neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright), a gregarious family man, Don sets out on a cross-country trip to visit four women he hasn’t seen in almost 20 years, any one of whom might be responsible for the letter and the mother of his son.
Bill Murray in his Ray Charles period...
That’s it. There are no surprises here. Plot-wise Jarmusch essentially tells us, in the most ordinary sense, what is going to happen—there’s even an itinerary—and then it happens. But of course, that’s beside the point.
Each encounter is depicted as fantastic, delicate, and for us, sublime. Portrayed by Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton, the four women come to us, each with her own particular and enchanting details. Don, distant and aloof, yet charming, comes to each of them with his own confused motives and, every time, a bouquet of pink flowers (Winston’s idea).
Jarmusch's greatest skill as a storyteller is in presenting wide-open yet ever so ridiculous situations in which his movies' action takes place. Never is this seen so clearly as in Broken Flowers. He sets the tale in motion, and as his characters and all of their often-hilarious quirks begin to bounce off of one another, there is little else to get in the way. What we get to see as a result, seems somehow more true: we connect with Don's bewilderment, we recognize his awkwardness. Of course, Broken Flowers is unsatisfying both in summer blockbuster and even basic narrative terms. But it's funky, patient, and welcoming, in ways that offer their own rewards. Go there, they have to take you in.
By: Rob Lott
Published on: 2005-08-24