Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 8/5/05 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.
One of the most celebrated and influential of independent filmmakers, Jim Jarmusch has been known for making films about eccentric outsiders and loners starting with his 1982 student feature Permanent Vacation and his 1984 feature-length debut film Strangers in Paradise that won him the Camera D'or for best first film. Jarmusch continued to make eccentric and strange films like Down by Law, Mystery Train, Night on Earth and 1995's idiosyncratic western Dead Man that showed his range as a writer and director. Jarmusch also took the time to act in films including Billy Bob Thornton's Sling Blade in 1996 while in 1997, Jarmusch did a documentary with Neil Young & Crazy Horse for Year of the Horse.
After 2000's Ghost Dog which was an homage to hip-hop and samurai films, he took a break to compile footage of several shorts he did called Coffee & Cigarettes. In 2003, he released his collection of shorts where one of them included a meeting with the RZA and GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan and actor/comedian Bill Murray. Murray was riding high on the universal acclaim for his performance in Sofia Coppola's 2003 masterpiece Lost in Translation as he began to team up with Jarmusch again for another look into a loner for the comedy-drama Broken Flowers.
Written and directed by Jarmusch, the film revolves about a Don Juan womanizer named Don Johnston whose life as a womanizer is over as he receives a letter that he had possibly given birth to a son 19 years earlier. Starring Bill Murray as Johnston, the film is a part road trip, part human exploration of a man who explores his pasts and trying to find himself through the women he had been with. Also starring Sharon Stone, Tilda Swinton, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, Julie Delpy, Chloe Sevigny, Christopher McDonald, Mark Webber, and Jeffrey Wright. Broken Flowers is Jarmusch's most straightforward film to date while remaining true to his unique approach to storytelling.
After his girlfriend Sherry (Julie Delpy) leaves him, Don Johnston finds a mysterious pink letter with claims that he has a long-lost son. Turning to his Ethopian-neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright), Winston believes that the letter is from an ex-girlfriend of Don as he gives Don maps to find out which of these ex-girlfriends are the father of his long-lost son. Johnston is reluctant to take the trip as he finally decides to go with Winston's map and a mixtape of music Winston has made filled with Ethopian jazz.
Arriving into his first destination, he meets Laura (Sharon Stone) who has become a widowed closet organizer with a kooky daughter named Loliga (Alexis Dziena). After learning about Laura's late race-car driver husband, the meeting Don has with Laura was strange as was Lolita's seductive presence. His next trip to meet with Dora (Frances Conroy) where she has become a real estates agent living in an upper class world with her husband Ron, also a real estate agent, that proved to be awkward and repressing. Don continues his journey to meet with Carmen, a veterinarian who talks to animals, that also proved to be another strange journey as he also meets her assistant (Chloe Sevigny).
During his stop to meet the fourth woman in the trip in Penny (Tilda Swinton), the meeting becomes a big disaster as he encounters bikers as he goes into one last trip to the fifth woman that already had died. Returning home, he meets a young man (Mark Webber) at an airport where Don ponders about his life and the trip he had taken.
While the story of the film is clearly Jarmusch's most straightforward film to date, the film still contains his strange, idiosyncratic views on the world, notably suburban America. The offbeat comedy style of the film works very well since it matches a lot of the dramatic scale in which the Don character grows up to learn of his own flaws for being a Don Juan. Jarmusch as a writer definitely gives a story that is filled with a lot of heart and humanity in a man who is trying to rediscover himself through women while trying to find the idea that he might have a son so he can teach him some life lessons.
On the directing front, this is Jarmusch at his best since he uses all sorts of styles from French New Wave (in which he dedicated his film to filmmaker Jean Eustache), European cinema, and everything he's learned about comedy and drama. From that standpoint, it's his most mature work to date that has some elements that appeals to a wide audience. The only flaw that is done in the film in terms of its writing and directing is the ending which can be described as abrupt. Still, that's typical Jarmusch who refuses to have some kind of happy ending but it's the kind of ending that leaves you thinking afterwards.
Helping Jarmusch to capture a natural, authentic look to the film without any kind of gloss is cinematographer Frederick Elmes who uses a realistic look to many of the film's locations in exterior and interiors. Even in the dream sequences, the look of the film is a bit grainy but in a dreamy texture. Production designer Mark Friedberg also captures the authentic feel of the film from the restaurant that Don and Winston drink coffee at to the homes and places of the women Don's looking for. Even John A. Dunn's costume design has a realism to the film where it doesn’t looked polished. Editor Jay Rabinowitz definitely scores with the film's editing style which has some nice jump-cut sequences in the driving scenes along with some nice fade-out cutting in some scenes that gives the film a nice, stylized editing approach that is clearly from the mind of Jim Jarmusch.
The film's music is widely diverse and original since most of it is from a mix-CD of music from Winston that definitely plays well to his character. Most of the music and score is dominated by some unique and catchy Ethiopian jazz music from composer Mulatu Astatke along with a few cuts from the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Marvin Gaye. The film's opening theme music and other cuts from Holly Golightly and the Greenhornes that has a nice, 1960s garage feel that is a pure discovery of some great music that leaves you humming and wanting to pick up the soundtrack.
Then there's the film's wonderful cast which includes some nice small performances from the children of Winston including one little girl who has a nice scene with Murray and Wright. Also doing well are Chris Bauer and Larry Fessenden as Penny’s biker buddies, Pell James as a flower girl clerk, Heather Simms as Winston's wife, Chloe Sevigny as Carmen's assistant, and most of all, Alexis Dziena as Laura's precocious, offbeat daughter Lolita who manages to steal a scene from Bill Murray in the most peculiar way. Mark Webber is also wonderful in the scene as a kid who might be Don's son.
Tilda Swinton and Julie Delpy might have small moments in the film but each actress use their brief time to shine. Delpy brings her frustration and beauty to the mix as Don's most recent girlfriend who wanted more from him in a wonderful performance. Swinton brings her chameleon-like approach to play a dirty, aggressive biker chick who just wreaks havoc into a single moment as she gets her moment to be funny. Jessica Lange gives her quirkiest performance to date as a Dr. Doolittle figure who likes to speak to animals while freaking out Bill Murray in a reunion of sorts from their 1982 film Tootsie.
Frances Conroy gives a restrained but offbeat performance in the film as the most straight-looking woman of the film but her lifestyle and ideas are so off in comparison to Don's lifestyle, Conroy is very funny. Christopher McDonald is even funnier as Dora's husband who manages to be a bit funnier and very off to the more restrained Murray as he continues to be one of the funniest character actors around. Sharon Stone is wonderful in a very funny performance as Laura as she uses her sexiness and sweetness into comedic levels that we haven't seen from her. It's by far one of her more enjoyable performances.
The best supporting performance of the entire movie easily goes to the wonderfully talented Jeffrey Wright who manages to shine in every second he's on film. Taking on an Ethiopian accent, Wright plays the funny man to Murray's more straight man approach. Wright is wonderfully generous and offbeat in his search to help Murray on his quest where in every scene he has with Murray, he does everything by coming into his house without knocking or giving him a mix-CD. There's a wonderful chemistry in Wright and Murray as the two uses different styles of comedy where it works and Wright deserves a lot of credit and recognition for his performance.
Then there's Bill Murray who gives a masterfully, minimalist performance that is almost as good as the one he gave as Bob Harris in Lost in Translation. Murray uses his restraint and face to give out all kinds of emotions that gives you an idea on what his character is doing to himself. Murray makes sure the character isn't a total likeable guy but one who has made mistakes. Murray even manages to be funny by doing so little and even in the words he says sometimes. He makes his character grow and have people care about him since he's trying to do wrong as it's one of Murray's best performances of his career.
While it's not up to par with Strangers in Paradise, Dead Man, or other favorites to some, Broken Flowers is a wonderful movie from Jim Jarmusch featuring a great cast led by Bill Murray and Jeffrey Wright. Fans of Jarmusch who might fear that the film is an attempt for him to go commercial will better think again cause it's not. The film as all the element of a Jarmusch picture that is very real with a bit of style. Fans of Bill Murray will definitely find this film that will feature one of his best performances to date while the real standout aside from Murray in the film is Jeffrey Wright who will definitely gain some new fans. For a film that is smart and with heart, Broken Flowers is truly one of the year's best films.
Jim Jarmusch Films: Permanent Vacation - Stranger Than Paradise - Down By Law - Mystery Train - Night on Earth - Dead Man - Year of the Horse - Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai - Coffee and Cigarettes - The Limits of Control - Only Lovers Left Alive - Paterson - (Gimmie Danger) - The Auteurs #27: Jim Jarmusch
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