The refreshment we've all been thirsting for this summer comes dry--Bill Murray dry, that is. Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers dares to take a journey off the beaten path for a glimpse at the imperfect minutiae of a midlife crisis and its bookends: a shameful past and a still-limitless future. The journey is both haunting and delectable, and it's one you'll be glad you took.
Don Johnston (Murray)--yes, he often gets the allusion to Melanie Griffith's ex, but he's tired of hearing it by now--has just been left by yet another girlfriend (Julie Delpy). He doesn't really mind one way or the other. In fact he doesn't have much emotion towards any aspect of his life except for perhaps lying on the couch, watching his TV and listening to his offbeat music. Even when receives an anonymous letter in the mail from an ex-lover telling him that he has a now-grown son, he shrugs it off. But once his quasi-sleuth neighbor, Winston (Jeffrey Wright), gets wind of this, he spurs Don on to investigate further. And so the journey begins, with Don embarking on a cross-country trek to find the writer of the letter. He revisits his old flames: a widow (Sharon Stone), who's raising a daughter (aptly) named Lolita; an animal communicator (Jessica Lange) with a thriving ''practice''; a rather sterile real estate agent (Six Feet Under's Frances Conroy), who's loath to recall her past; and a country bumpkin (Tilda Swinton) resistant to Don's inquiries. Fed up and weary, Don returns home to his comfortable misery, much to Winston's dismay. But a chance encounter around town sends Don spinning in circles, waking him up for the first time in eons.
Much has been said about the minimalist acting in Flowers. That could be because there is, actually, minimal acting in the film. Instead, the focus is on what's not spoken. What's between the lines, the dynamics between the characters and what's going on internally--and Murray is brilliant at it. The actor is at his deadpan-best. The neo-Murray embodies everything this man's past has reduced him to--without having to actually rehash said past. Of course, we hate to say this since we've been disappointed in the past, but Murray may get another good shot at winning his sought-after Oscar. As his partner in crime, the always dazzling Wright (HBO's Angels in America)--the Stanley Kubrick of actors who chooses roles that will not compromise his artistic integrity--provides all the overt comedy and interactions we might have expected from Murray. It's a flawless performance. As Don's four ex-flames, the actresses' collective screen time are short but necessarily succinct. Most noteworthy among them is Swinton, a native Brit, who is utterly unrecognizable as Don's backwoods ex.
Writer-director Jim Jarmusch is truly in a class of his own. The auteur with highly eclectic tastes, who is also revered in the indie cult community, puts out movies few and far between. But he's always prided himself on the fact his films, such as Coffee and Cigarettes and Stranger Than Paradise, are limited only to his arthouse devotees. Yet, with Flowers, there has been some trepidation from even his most faithful that this film may be his most mainstream to date. Heaven forbid! It still doesn't detract from the film's brilliance. As with most of Jarmusch's pieces, Flowers' central core is discovering the beauty in the mundane. And anyone who thinks Jarmusch may have sold out will be put into their places after seeing the film's most-divisive climax--an ending that is far from the cut-and-dry sweetness to most audiences are accustomed. The writer-director also demonstrates an uncanny ability to tap into Murray's dry sense of humor and cynical outlook on life better than other director. Having previously worked together in Cigarettes, we can only hope that the collaboration of Murray and Jarmusch becomes the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton of indie world.
Just because the Academy will most likely snub a low-budget, character-driven gem like Broken Flowers doesn't mean you should. In fact, run to the theater, and don't be deterred if it's mostly empty, because you'll need all the room you can get to get a hold of this one.