Broken Flowers (2005) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for language, some graphic nudity, and drug use
Running Time: 106 min.

Cast: Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Julie Delpy, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton, Christopher McDonald, Heather Simms, Alexis Dziena, Chloe Sevigny, Pell James
Director: Jim Jarmusch

Screenplay: Jim Jarmusch
Review published January 7, 2006

Nicely directed by quirky filmmaker Jim Jarmusch (Coffee and Cigarettes, Ghost Dog), and just as nicely performed in the comic subtlety department by veteran Bill Murray, Broken Flowers may lose more mainstream audiences expecting an obvious laugh riot, but those looking for something different than the norm should be pleased.  Like all of Jarmusch's previous works, this one's not to every taste, as some will love it for all of its contemplative and offbeat charms, while others will think it a film about a nobody doing nothing and going nowhere in particular.  It's a film about human nature, personally realized with subtle observations, and how much of this you can relate to will greatly depend on you.

Murray stars as Don Johnston, a former "Don Juan" type, who has finally settled down with a woman in recent years, except she has just left him to do some thinking of her own about the state of her life at this point.  Around the same time, Don receives a letter with no return address from a lover he apparently had two decades before, telling him that she was pregnant with his child at the time they broke up, and that child has now grown into a man.  No signature on the letter, Don has no idea who it could be, having romances quite a few women in his time.  His neighbor Winston (Wright, The Manchurian Candidate), who prides himself on being an amateur sleuth, convinces him to take a road trip and find all the women that may have written such a note.  Over the next few days, Don goes to each of the potential candidates, trying to find the missing piece to the puzzle of the piece of his life he never knew existed.

If there is anything that both Jarmusch and Murray are known for, it's their laid-back approach to comedy, utilizing self-ironies and an irreverent dry wit that makes you hang on their every word and inference, as their straight-faced approach requires diligent attention to find the point where they get that glint in their eyes that says, "We're just pulling your leg".  Finding the little touches here and there is a great part of the charm of enjoying Broken Flowers, so if you are expecting a zany comedy that utilizes a broad-stroke approach, you're likely to get lost not too long after the movie begins.  This is a film of small things, moving with barely perceptible steps, but always with careful attention to the manner in which it presents itself. 

As mentioned previously, how much you get out of a philosophically inclined comedy like Broken Flowers will most likely be dependent on your mindset going into it.  If you are a Jarmusch regular, or even a lover of Independent American comedies, you'll probably find it endlessly entertaining.  Murray fans will be split, with those that miss Murray when he would do slapstick comedies finding this film to be just another case of him trying to be an actor rather than a comedian.  On the other side of the coin, those that have embraced his journey into smart and well-developed films like Lost in Translation will applaud him for another daring career choice. 

Jarmusch has always been a mixed bag in my book, but I do like Bill Murray a great deal, so it's no surprise that I find Broken Flowers to be a more enjoyable film than the last several of Jim's efforts.  You may catch on to what the film is trying to say, or you may not, but on the chance that you think you might have a shot, Broken Flowers should at least prove worth the attempt.  Keep high expectations at bay, and an open mind, and you might find this deadpan comedy to be dead on the money.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo