Friday 27 June 2014

Movie Review: Broken Flowers (2005)

A contemplative drama about lessons in life from lovers of the past, Broken Flowers enjoys an entrancing premise and a serenely tormented Bill Murray performance.

Don Johnston (Murray) is a rich but lonely man, having made his money in the computer industry. On the same morning that his latest girlfriend Sherry (Julie Delpy) dumps him, Don receives an unsigned letter from a woman claiming to have been his lover about 20 years ago. She wants to let Don know that she was pregnant when they broke up, and that Don has a 19 year old son who may be now looking for him.

Next door neighbour Winston (Jeffrey Wright), an amateur detective of sorts, convinces Don to head out on a trip to connect with four former lovers who may have written the letter.  Reluctantly Don agrees, and sequentially reconnects with widowed free spirit Laura (Sharon Stone), married real estate agent Dora (Frances Conroy), animal communicator Carmen (Jessica Lange), and trailer park trash Penny (Tilda Swinton). One of them may be the mother of the son he has never known, but finding out the truth will not be easy.

Directed by Jim Jarmusch with a subtle mix of pathos and humour, Broken Flowers is a wistful look at the what-may-have-beens of life. The film is an astute examination of emotional yearning through a journey to the actual present of the idyllic past. Well written with a hefty dose of sardonic realism, Broken Flowers may occasionally try a bit too hard to be an artistic amalgamation of Lost In Translation's curious style and Groundhog Day's riff on middle aged angst, but overall Jarmusch creates his own attractive life mystery tickling for a resolution.

Don knows that he has deprived himself of something better than a very empty house. What he finds on his trip are four contrasting alternate lives occupied by four women he once loved. Laura has not lost the spark of youth, despite losing a car racer husband in a fiery crash. Laura's daughter Lolita (Alexis Dziena) is doing everything possible to live up to her name in an interlude that reminds Don how old and lonely he is. Never mind his son; he could have had a daughter old enough to seduce men his age by now.

Dora is stiff, miserable, and married to Ron (Christopher McDonald), and the one woman who may still be harbouring feelings for Don. Dora has transformed from a carefree hippie teenager to a soulless adult salesperson, and Don reminds her of a life before conformance. Carmen has not sold out, but has instead veered into the pseudo new age crap of animal communication, and likely a lesbian relationship with her receptionist (Chloƫ Sevigny). Carmen rebuffs every attempt by Don to rekindle a connection.

And finally Penny is in the abyss, living in the ramshackle muddy middle of nowhere with a hick boyfriend. She simply can't handle any reminders of a past that actually held promise. There is a fifth woman who was also Don's lover from about 20 years ago, by Don has to visit Michelle at the cemetery: she died five years ago and could not have written the letter.

Laura, Dora, Carmen, Penny and Michelle provide a short odyssey of lust, regret, rejection, hate and death. Would Don's life have been better with any of these women? And more importantly, is one of them the mother of his son? As with any journey that seeks a definitive answer, Don returns home with plenty of new questions and the nagging certainty that the solution to the anonymous letter puzzle is just tantalizingly around the next corner. And now every young man takes on the appealing prospect of being, just maybe, his son.

Bill Murray is enormously watchable, remaining well within himself while slowly allowing Don to succumb to the gnawing doubt filling the empty spaces of his soul. The actresses portraying the four former lovers get short shifts, and they all leave an impression. Tilda Swinton, in just her one scene, portrays what it means for a life to disintegrate under the weight of what must have been some truly shocking decision making.

Understated and heartfelt, Broken Flowers is an ode to the mysteries of life's alternative destinies.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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