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Broken Flowers   B+

Focus Features

Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Cast: Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton, Julie Delpy.

Review by Sean O'Connell

Bill Murray's dual personalities are currently on display. A recent DVD release of Ghostbusters and its sequel remind us of Murray's sarcastic dominance, his polished-to-perfection penchant for staring down at audiences from a lofty, self-righteous perch of comedy. When done right, it's beyond brilliant.

Broken Flowers adds to a growing stable of introspective, reserved leading roles that attract Murray late in his career. An open-ended character mystery, the film is Murray's second collaboration with writer/director Jim Jarmusch, whose stark and personal projects rarely carry as strong a storyline as the one found here.

We begin with a noticeable pink envelope that makes its long journey to the doorstep of Don Johnston (Murray). A playboy milking his fattened bank account, Johnston seems disinterested in maintaining relationships or venturing away from his comfortably nondescript abode. His latest flame, impulsive Sherry (Julie Delpy), walks out due to a lack of commitment on Don's part. Her abrupt departure coincides with the arrival of the envelope, which contains a letter (also pink) informing Don that he has an illegitimate son who may be seeking him out.

Like a flower, Jarmusch's story grows more beautiful as it slowly unfolds to reveal delicate but intoxicating inner truths. Johnston's excursion to find the mother of his potential son is kick-started by his intrusive neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright), who fancies himself as an amateur sleuth and starts building a case around the women Don shared relationships with years ago.

Set at a real-time pace, Flowers shoves a reluctant Johnston down memory lane where he revisits his past lovers to find illogical clues Winston needs to complete his investigation. Each impromptu visit by this emotionally shut-off introvert is a sobering window into his potential life paths. Had he stayed with Laura (Sharon Stone), the two could be raising her flirtatious teenage daughter, aptly named Lolita (Alexis Dziena). Had he not abandoned Dora (Frances Conroy), she might not have crawled into the smothering arms of disingenuous real-estate broker Ron (Christopher McDonald).

Jarmusch pens these encounters as scratches at old scabs. They reopen wounds for Don and the ladies he left behind. Though the women's existences could be mistaken for mundane, each comes off more grounded and credible than the plastic bubble of detachment Don currently occupies. They add up to intense ponderings on a spent lifetime, the type of analysis Alexander Payne's About Schmidt should have been.

The contemplative Murray sets the film's energy levels low, draining the enthusiasm for Don's hunt before his journey even begins. It's a side of Murray we're getting quite comfortable with, and his observant stance allows Stone, Conroy, and the great Jessica Lange to bounce off him with ease. Ironically, Broken Flowers could be the picture that eventually earns Murray his Oscar. Though the funnyman deserved recognition for hitting these same somber notes in Sophia Coppola's Lost in Translation, the Academy loves to reward talent after the fact.

Review published 08.16.2005.

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