Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bill Murray, Sharon Stone, Julie Delpy, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, Tilda Swinton, Jeffrey Wright, Chloe Sevigny, Larry Fessenden
Written by: Jim Jarmusch
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
MPAA Rating: R for language, some graphic nudity and brief drug use
Running Time: 106
Date: 05/17/2005

Broken Flowers (2005)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Awesome Blossoms

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

We have no better American actor right now than Bill Murray. No one else has been so good for so long, and has continued to improve at the same time. It would be difficult to argue that De Niro or Pacino are better now than they were in the 1970s. In Jim Jarmusch's masterful new film Broken Flowers, he gives a performance as intuitive as Buster Keaton, vaguely aware of the lunacy surrounding him in the world, and allowing it to slough off his shoulders with a well-placed and barely detectable smirk.

What's new is the sadness involved in this action. No longer does he take pleasure in his cynicism. It now comes with the realization that nothing is going to change. But where Jarmusch gets his film's power is in the absolute, untarnished wonder and enchantment that Murray takes in women.

Murray plays Don Johnston (with a "t"), a successful computer magnate whose latest girlfriend (Julie Delpy) walks out on him just before he receives a mysterious, unsigned pink letter, informing him that a 19 year-old son he never knew about just might be dropping by.

Don's neighbor, Winston (Jeffrey Wright), a family man with a passion for detective work, arranges an itinerary for Don to visit four of his old girlfriends from 19+ years ago to figure out who the mother is. So Don hits the road and visits Laura (Sharon Stone), Dora (Frances Conroy), Carmen (Jessica Lange) and Penny (Tilda Swinton), in turn, looking for clues. The hilarious and poignant results vary.

Murray and Jarmusch play these scenes with the utmost generosity and care, spending as much time as necessary on each. Don enters each home and takes in its unique details: a weird picture, music playing in the background, a geometrically perfect supper, or a rusty fender covered in grass.

But Don's face opens up the moment he beholds the women. He studies them like statues of goddesses, trying to work out their mysteries and beauties. He meets a few more women on his journeys, younger women, many attracted to Don. He's always had an easy time with the ladies, and in one scene Winston resignedly mentions that Don "understands women." But really it's Winston, with his wonderful wife and children, who understands life. Jarmusch illustrates this in a single, simple cut, studying both Don and Winston's faces.

With Broken Flowers, Jarmusch has once again found a perfect way to fit his fragmented storytelling into a cohesive narrative. His patience, use of music and skill with the actors has never been more refined. His own cynicism seems to have melted a bit; most of his usual weird supporting characters are gone, replaced with genuine fully-rounded people.

Broken Flowers is the best American film since Lost in Translation. It belongs in the same camp with that film and Before Sunset as the only recent films that get close to the mystery of love and the reality of regret, the stuff of life.

Kino Lorber's 2019 Blu-ray release is a reminder of how much I love this film. The transfer feels a teensy bit soft, perhaps pale, but that may have been Jarmusch's choice; I won't cast blame on anyone. Bonuses include one extended scene (two girls chattering away on a bus), and a wonderful collection of outtakes featuring all of the slate claps and some between-scene clowning by Murray (about 8 minutes). There are four trailers, including one for this and two for other Murray films (Mad Dog and Glory and Cradle Will Rock). Audio is available in either 2.0 or 5.1, and there are optional English subtitles.

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