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Broken Flowers

Posted: October 19th, 2005, by Alex McChesney

On at least three occasions in Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers, Bill Murray sits and stares into space. The camera stares at him, unmoving. He stares back. Nothing happens, but somehow that stare tells you more about the character than a dozen pages of exposition-heavy dialog would in the hands of a lesser film-maker. Tiny details, both of character and individual shots, make this a film genuinely worth seeing more than once.

Murray plays Don Johnston (with a ‘T’), an ageing lothario who, shortly after yet another girlfriend walks out on him, receives a mysterious letter from an anonymous former lover informing him that he has an 18 year old son. Despite being outwardly uncaring, it doesn’t take much prompting from his dope-smoking amateur-sleuth neighbour Winston (the excellent and underrated Jeffrey Wright) to set him on a trip across the US to track down his old flames and find out if it’s really true.

It’s probably the most accessibly comedic film in Jarmusch’s canon, and runs the gamut from fairly broad laughs (the outrageously flirtatious teenage daughter of one of Johnston’s exes) to more subtle humour (watch out for Winston almost-but-not-quite picking up the bill for lunch), but it’s shot through with melancholy. Murray’s character may seem like a reprise of Bob Harris from Lost In Translation, and indeed there’s much similarity between the two films – both are gently paced tales about lonely people trying to find something to anchor them in a world in which they can participate but never feel at peace in – but Broken Flowers is far less optimistic than that movie. Early belly-laughs give way to a growing sadness as Don’s journey increasingly echoes each and every one of his failed relationships; joyful in the beginning, giving way to familiarity, coldness and anger, until all that’s left is a memory of something that was once beautiful. The search for his son becomes a quest to find something permanent in his life before it’s too late.

If you’re one of those individuals who found Lost in Translation to be duller than a bread sandwich, or who can’t stomach Murray’s laconic-loner schtick, Broken Flowers won’t be for you. For which I’m deeply sorry. Everyone else should give it a try.

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Alex McChesney

Alex was brought up by a family of stupid looking monkeys after being lost in the deep jungles of Paisley. Teaching him all their secret conga skills (as well as how to throw barrels at plumbers), Alex was able to leave for the bright lights of Glasgow where adventure struck him and he needed all his conga skills to save the world and earn the hand of a lovely Texan princess. He now keeps a low profile alphabeticising his record collection and making sock monkeys in the likenesses of his long lost family.


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