Broken Flowers – a Review

In recent years, Bill Murray has developed a screen persona that relies on silence, a handful of facial expressions and an air of gloomy indifference. The latest Jim Jarmusch movie, Broken Flowers, allows him to explore this screen persona to the full, however, it is this character’s inability to communicate that contributes to the film’s failure to satisfy.

The opening shots of the movie establish Don Johnston’s world. We meet his neighbour, Winston, who has a beautiful wife, and a brood of lively children. His house is chaotic, yet warm and full of life. In contrast, Don Johnston, having just been left by his latest lover, Sherrie (Julie Delpy), sits silent and alone in a cavernous living room. We watch him watch television, stare into space, then fall sleep.

We are given few clues as to what motivates Don. We learn that he made lots of money ‘in computers’ but can only assume that he is now retired, as he seems to have plenty of time on his hands. We are also told that he was/is something of a ‘Don Juan’, although it is difficult to imagine anyone with such a lack of charisma attracting much attention from the opposite sex.

Don receives an anonymous letter from someone claiming to be a former lover, who reveals that she has raised Don’s son, and that the son, now a teenager, has left in search of his father. Don consults Winston, a budding crime writer and amateur sleuth, and is encouraged to track down the writer of the letter and uncover the truth about his son.

The movie then follows Don as he travels the country in search of his former lovers: Laura (Sharon Stone) is a widower with a promiscuous daughter; Dora (Frances Conroy) is a married real estate agent; Carmen (Jessica Lange) is an animal communicator; and Penny (Tilda Swinton) lives on a ramshackle farm with bad-tempered bikers. The encounters grow increasingly awkward. There is little or no talk, and not much to suggest that there was ever any affection between Don and these women.

We are just as unsatisfied as Don when he returns home without having discovered anything more about his son or the mysterious letter. There are a few more developments before the movie’s end, but no resolution. That, in itself, is not a problem. There is no need for a ‘happy ending’ if the movie contains a sense of ‘journey’. We are meant to feel that Don has experienced something profound in Broken Flowers. Instead, we are left frustrated and puzzled. Without a clear ‘starting point’ it is impossible to get a sense of ‘journey’. In Broken Flowers we know as little about Don Johnston at the end as we did at the beginning.

Often ‘less is more’ is good, sometimes ‘just a little’ is better.


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