[box cover]

Broken Flowers

Art house icon Jim Jarmusch is often credited with pioneering independent filmmaking in the 1980s with his critically heralded, oddball, underground shoestring comedies Stranger Than Paradise (1984) and Down by Law (1986; collective gross: $4 million). Bill Murray, meanwhile, was starring in less obscure comic fare like Ghostbusters (1984; gross $238 million). In the mid-1990s, waning Murray began searching out a new niche in the surging indie movement, resulting in a string of terrific, droll performances including quirky classics like Rushmore (1997) and Lost in Translation (2003). At the same time, Jarmusch, while attracting a few bigger stars (like Johnny Depp in 1995's Dead Man), managed to stay obscure through persistence of his unpopular vision, as other indies were breaking through to mainstream audiences. Broken Flowers (2005) is a natural crossing of these two career paths, with Jarmusch delivering his, ostensibly, most accessible movie to date, featuring former Hollywood heavyweights like Murray, Sharon Stone, and Jessica Lange, and with a modest gross of $13 million nearly equaling the total take of his seven previous feature films combined. Murray, continuing his acclaimed course of playing sad-sack, aging bachelors devoured by wry self-contempt, finds in Jarmusch a director who will dwell even longer on his effectively weary, rueful visage, and in Broken Flowers a script perfectly tailored for such. Murray stars as Don Johnston, a veteran lothario joylessly inhabiting a shell of his former self; wealthy but not working, living in a big house with few signs of life or warmth, and watching yet another woman walk out of his door in disappointment. However, as Sherry (Julie Delpy) leaves, Don receives an anonymous letter informing him that two decades earlier one of his flings resulted in a now-grown son who is seeking him out. Don's lively neighbor and friend (Geoffrey Wright), an amateur detective, prods him into taking an investigative road trip to visit his four lovers from the period in question and determine which, if any, bore his child and sent the letter. As a Jarmusch film, Broken Flowers is not so much about plot points as it is about mood and journey, and some indication of the typical pacing of Jarmusch's pictures is that it takes over half an hour for Don to begin his trip. As he drops in on his former flings (Sharon Stone, France Conroy, Jessica Lange, and an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton, who looks like Cher), each in their own unique situations and with their own mysterious reactions to his surprise visit, Don questions not only the purpose of the venture, but that of his lonely life itself. At its best, Broken Flowers is dry and contemplative, evoking bittersweet memories, faded perceptions, awkward reunions and forgotten emotions. But while Jarmusch's uniquely patient style is largely responsible for creating the film's effective mood, it is also always his greatest obstacle. If every painstakingly long (bordering on self-parodic), quiet shot of Don sitting morosely on his couch or pensively driving a rental car were cut in half, one suspects Broken Flowers would shed nearly half an hour from its 1 hour, 46 min., running time, leaving little more than a short subject. Nonetheless, Murray is the perfect vehicle for such a study, for the most part able to bear Jarmusch's stubborn gaze and carve out of the frozen canvas of morose meditation a pinhole of personality — and yet one has to wonder if Broken Flowers signals the end of the line for Murray's recent embodiment of sour middle-aged regret. It's hard to imagine a more thorough variation on that theme, although one with a little less dead time would be nice. Also with Chloe Sevigny, Christopher MacDonald and Alex Dzienas. Universal/Focus Films presents the title in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include a couple of outtakes reels, one of which features a phone conversation with Jarmusch about the movie. Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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