Long moments in writer-director Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers are spent with Bill Murray staring into space. These are not meandering, blank stares. There’s so much going on behind his sad eyes that words are not necessary.
Jarmusch’s film moves at the pace of life, which is sometimes slow and depressing, and the people inhabiting the story don’t always have wise things to say. Characters often look as if they are going to say something that will make sense of a situation but remain stifled and incommunicative, something that afflicts us all from time to time.
Murray’s Don Johnston is a mid-50s Don Juan who’s just been dumped by his much younger girlfriend (Julie Delpy). A pink envelope shows up in the mail, containing a letter that might be from a past girlfriend he knew 20 years ago. The letter states that Don has a son he’s never met, and the boy might be searching for him, so beware. Is it a joke? Does he have a kid? Will he meet the boy and give his meaningless, shallow life some substance and legitimacy?
Don’s pal Winston (a hilarious Jeffrey Wright) is determined to find out. He plans a lengthy trip for Don with all his flights, rental cars and hotels mapped out, imploring Don to search for the mystery woman and unlock the secrets of the letter. Don had a lot of girlfriends 20 years ago, so he’ll be doing much catching up. Wright makes the most of his few scenes as the eager friend and self-appointed detective. His plans for Don are outrageous, yet he knows Don will do everything he says.
Don’s first stop is to see Laura (a tremendously poised Sharon Stone), who has a daughter named Lolita (Alexis Dziena). She couldn’t be more aptly named. Don searches for clues, gets no answers, sleeps with Laura and moves on. Along the way he’ll see Carmen the animal communicator (Jessica Lange), real estate mogul and housewife Dora (Frances Conroy) and Penny the biker chick (Tilda Swinton). Some are happier to see him than others, but all remain candidates for author of the mystery letter.
This is a Jarmusch film, so don’t expect all of the answers to be concrete. While Broken Flowers is funny at times, it’s a dark movie about an aging man paying the price for holding too much back from the women who loved him during his life. Murray often comes off as a man about to explode with emotion, but it never really happens. A graveyard scene is where Don comes closest to emotional release, but he doesn’t quite get there.
There are hilarious moments scattered throughout the movie. During Lange’s scene, an amazing cat looks to be speaking volumes with its eyes as Lange’s character translates its opinions about Don. ("He says you have a hidden agenda.") The outfits Lolita wears, or doesn’t wear, call for some characteristically droll remarks from Murray, and Christopher McDonald has a humorously uncomfortable scene as Dora’s cocky husband.
At the screening I attended, there were some folks lamenting the film as “slow.” Broken Flowers is definitely for more patient movie patrons, a deliberately paced movie that takes time to breathe and allows humans to act like humans rather than typical movie characters with glib responses and actions.
Therefore, much of the film is spent in silence, and some of those silences are very long.
As the film concludes, Jarmusch suggests that Don might have a little life in him after all. He has love in his heart, for sure. Whether he will ever be able to truly share that with another person—be it a woman or a long-lost son—he seems eager to try in his own laid-back, sad way.