When Bill Murray was younger, he convinced us that a slob could make it with a beautiful woman if he made her laugh and let her know that he appreciated her. By the time we get to Lost in Translation , we believe Murray could pick up a woman just by looking into her eyes. Some will see Broken Flowers and say that Murray is repeating himself; but in fact, his character is an entirely different branch of the tree – as if the young lothario aged without ever growing up.
Don Johnston (Murray) made a fortune in computers, but he doesn’t care about his work or the money. His latest very young girlfriend, Sherry (Julie Delpy), is walking out on him. "What do you want out of life?" she demands. He opens his mouth, but only silence comes out. Poof, she’s gone.
Then a bombshell lands on Don’s doorstep: a letter, on pink stationery, allegedly from an old flame who claims she bore him a son. His circuits blown, Don flops on his leather couch, alone in the dark, unable to think, to decide, or even to move.
Don’s Ethiopian next-door-neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright) has a busy family life that looks like a lot of fun. He strolls over to Don’s, reads the letter, and becomes obsessed with it. The pink paper, the stamp, the manual typewriter it was written on — all are clues. He prods Don into making a list of old girlfriends, then prints out an itinerary for Don to visit the women, one by one. What are friends for, if not to pester us out of stasis?
The first woman, Laura (Sharon Stone), is a faded widow who still offers warmth. Her daughter, Lolita (Alexis Dziena), has an interesting way of breaking the ice. When Don sees mother and daughter together, he sees the girl he knew, the woman she became, and his life as it might have been. The next three women, each of them memorable, are progressively angrier. The fifth is dead.
I haven’t much enjoyed the other films I’ve seen by writer/director Jim Jarmusch. But this movie is something else. Much of its effect comes from the muted photography of Frederick Elms that draws power from the landscape. Elms and Jarmusch note poverty without going for pathos. The shambling musical score is great "searchin’ music".
Bill Murray was once thought of only as a comic actor. In his first dramatic film, The Razor’s Edge , both Murray and his character were searching for themselves. Can it be coincidence that he also played the title character in Scrooged , an updating of the Dickens story, about a man traveling through his life? Or that he played Phil, in Groundhog Day , forced to live the same day endlessly until he changed? For a man at a crossroads, everyday coincidences connect and take on meaning, as if the Universe were trying to tell him something. Maybe it is.
You might still be able to catch Broken Flowers at Showplace East. This and other theater and music reviews are available online at wfiu.indiana.edu. Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.