RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 11: Jim Jarmusch’s “Broken Flowers” (2005)


The Players…

Bill Murray, Jeffery Wright, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton.

The Story…

After being dumped by yet another girlfriend, serial bachelor Don figures simply he’ll be alone forever. It’s probably easier this way. But when an anonymous letter arrives one day and tells him he has a 19-year-old son out there, Don sets out on a cross-country journey to confront his past—and a few old flames in the process. Mom’s out there, too, you know.

The Rant…

First off, I want to apologize for the last installment. It was hastily written under the influence of alcohol and hubris. Mostly alcohol. Also having one of your most fave rock n’ roll icons die of cancer would sour anyone’s day. If I were a professional, I would say that the last installment was very unprofessional. But I’m not, so I’ll simply say sorry for being a dickhead. Okay? Good.

Anyway, on with the show.

Relationships are hard. Believe me, I know. I’m in one. Sometimes I can recommend it. Other times, meh. But here’s a relationship that hopefully none of you will ever have. One with yourself. It’s ugly, and gets stale really fast…

Poor Don Johnston (Murray). He sucks at relationships in a habitual way. Can’t stay with one woman for any appreciable amount of time, and sure enough, they all eventually leave, sick of his sorry ass. Seems Don is trapped as a career bachelor, hopelessly stuck in an affair with himself and his past. And he’s a chump for it.

One day, Don receives an odd letter in the mail. A pink letter. No name. No return address. Handwriting unfamiliar. Message damning. It’s from an old flame, casually informing Don that he has a 19-year old son by her, whomever she may be. This lights a fire under his ass, and Don seeks out his security expert neighbor Winston (Wright) for advice. Of course, who else? He recommends to Don that he goes through his little black book of memories and seek out any female potential leads from his past to locate his quarry. Sure. Seems logical. So with nothing but hazy recollections of his failed relationships as his guide, Don goes on a cross-country adventure hunting for the mother of his mystery son.

And he finds out that each relationship ended for a reason. Sometimes a very good reason…

This movie did not clean up at the box office. Blame the director.

Jim Jarmusch has been long derided or complemented (depending on who you ask) as an indie darling. The long tracking shots. The signature fade out. The quirkiness. Jarmusch has never made any big coin from his films. His reputation almost precludes this. And I’m a fan of his work. Flowers is a pseudo art house film, not meant for all audiences despite how charming and unintentionally funny Murray is.

Not to mention that I’m a fan of Bill Murray, especially his “late period” stuff, when he hung up screwball for leading man as average Joe. If Murray here were anymore disconnected, his head would fall off. He is as wry as ever, lugging around that look on his face that screams befuddlement and self-absorption. Carrying that ridiculous bouquet of pink flowers (get it?) as his calling card, going door-to-door to all his exes, each one getting worse and worse than previous? It all but practically shouts “kick me.” And Bill is a delightful stooge with a bullseye taped to his ass. It’s really all an exercise in vanity as well as hopelessness. You never get a feeling of rooting for Don, and you don’t have to. He’s not likeable in any immediate way, but as I said before, it’s Murray, and he’s always charming.

Rounding out the cast is a flighty Sharon Stone, a vacant Frances Conroy, an aloof Jessica Lange and an outright hostile Tilda Swinton (whom I couldn’t even recognize at first glance). It’s as if each woman represents a chapter in Don’s life of bad breakups and past mistakes. In fact, that’s exactly what it is. No hidden subtext there. As a tonic, Jeffery Wright is hilarious as Don’s “life coach” and guide on his journey of self-discovery and madness. I don’t know what accent that is he’s using, but it’s oddly appropriate.

This whole movie has a surrealist Wes Anderson kinda feeling, maybe because of Murray. Little touches here and there painting different flavors of bizarre domesticity play out like a reel of Don’s history of crawling up his own ass. Maybe this film is about self-discovery. Maybe it’s a cautionary tale. Maybe it’s the oddest road trip movie ever filmed. I don’t know. What I’ve learned after watching Flowers is this: don’t chase down your past. What you may find is nothing more than yourself. That can be ugly.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. But hard choice this. Jarmusch’s films are decidedly not for everyone, especially those who have short attention spans. Let’s say if you’re a fan of Jarmusch, then see it. It’s got all his trademarks, good and bad. If you’re not a fan…What the hell, rent it anyway. It’s an interesting little piece of cinema, and consider it training wheels for other quirky indie films out there.

Stray Observations…

  • Bill Murray has mastered the hangdog. I think you could trace that all the way back to Carl Spackler from Caddyshack infamy. Something about Murray’s eyes when he delivers dialogue.
  • “Don’t worry. I’ll monitor your house everyday.” We all need a neighbor like Winston. We do. Save the accent.
  • “I’m a stalker. In a Taurus.”
  • That’s Murray’s actual son with the scene outside the cafe. The whole film’s about a family affair, right?

Next Installment…

Keanu Reeves looks through A Scanner Darkly. Whoa.


Leave a Reply