Match Made in Heaven

Columbus Alive | August 18, 2005
Everyone has a history with Bill Murray. As GZA said in Coffee and Cigarettes, Murray’s first collaboration with writer/director Jim Jarmusch, “It’s Bill motherfuckin’ Murray.” The sight of him holds an invaluable cache of 25 years’ worth of fond pop culture memories.

He’s always had a silent comedian’s skill for doing a lot with a little gesture or eye movement, something he’s relied on more with age and experience, and over time he’s also embraced the tragedy in comedy, playing characters surrounded by affection but completely alone. Like Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) and Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), in Broken Flowers Jarmusch has made good use of this, and of everything that comes with his star.

Murray is Don Johnston, a middle-aged lothario with software money whose latest lover (Julie Delpy) is walking out the door as the film begins. Frustrated, she asks what he wants, and Don looks at her like the question honestly never occurred to him.

The same day, a bombshell in a pink envelope arrives, anonymously informing Don that one of his girlfriends from 20 years before had his son and never told him. His friend Winston (Jeffrey Wright), an amateur detective, insists that Don try to find out which old flame wrote the letter, and after getting a short list of possibilities, sends him off on a cross-country trip with a complete itinerary and a CD of Ethiopian jazz (musician Mulatu Astatke, the highlight of another great Jarmusch soundtrack).

Sharon Stone’s NASCAR widow and her aptly named daughter Lolita (Alexis Dziena) are visited first, followed by Six Feet Under’s Frances Conroy, a crushed flower child turned seller of pre-fab mansions, living in quiet desperation with a perfectly cast Christopher McDonald; Jessica Lange’s pet communicator, at once fragile and intimidating, and her territorial assistant (and possible lover) Chloë Sevigny; and a biker chick played by Tilda Swinton, who’s barely recognizable, almost feral. Introduced as a nearly wordless enigma, Don is fleshed out by what he stirs in himself and his past lovers with each successively colder reunion.

Broken Flowers is being called Jarmusch’s most accessible movie to date, though two of the most challenging aspects of his work—very calm pacing and extra-dry deadpan—are here in force, and the filmmaker opts for a finale that could madden viewers accustomed to neatly tied ends. Murray’s mere presence, and yet another award-worthy performance from the actor, can probably take much of the credit for that.

But regardless of its mainstream potential, Jarmusch’s film is a fine, funny, thoughtful portrait of a life previously unexamined (and a terrific showcase for its over-40 actresses). It’s full of beautiful details in performance and production design, which say as much, or more, about the characters than any verbal exchange.

Columbus Alive

Founded in 1983, Alive is the Capital City's oldest and only independent alternative and is known for providing a forum for the area's free thinkers. The paper's spirited and original perspective on music, arts and culture distinguish it from the...
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