Broken Flowers will not only get under your skin, but into your soul.
Every decade, America spawns a clutch of directors who, to a certain extent, make movies on their own terms. The Coen brothers, Spike Lee, Todd Haynes, Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch constitute the nucleus of the '90s manifestation of these directors dedicated to non-conformism.
Their movies may often elude the mainstream, but when the Doomsday Book of movie history is written, these are the guys that anyone who gives a fig about film will remember.
Jim Jarmusch, the creative force behind an almost flawless oeuvre – additions such as Dead Man, Mystery Train and Down By Law make his a veritable rogues gallery of originality, integrity and emotion. Broken Flowers may at first seem like Jarmusch has opted for a new direction, but this is vintage Jim. Pure gold.
There was a point where it became de rigueur to window dress a movie with ironic, inane banter that has no relation to the main narrative. Jarmusch takes these slight, elliptical 'stories' and fleshes them out into movies, realising the simple truth that interesting stories make for interesting films.
Broken Flowers opens with Don Johnston (the ever mesmeric Bill Murray) finding a note on his doorstep that claims to be from an (un-named) former belle revealing that while they were together she became pregnant by him and gave birth to a son who is now 19-years-old. Don and his neighbour Winston (Jeffrey Wright) go on a road trip to visit his ex-girlfriends and discover who the sent the letter.
With Johnston, Murray’s cinematic transcendence from comic relief bit-parter during the '80s and '90s to leading man and an embodiment of dramatic subtlety, has hit its apogee. It’s a performance which combines the haughty mystique of Steve Zissou and the world-weary painted smile of Bob Harris to heartbreaking effect.
The trip commences and Don reconvenes with four of his ex-girlfriends. Each reunion gives clues to Don’s back-story. All parties, without exception, remember Don (a sign that he hasn’t changed in over 20 years) and, perhaps as a result of meeting him, have made drastic changes to their own lives. Laura (Sharon Stone) is a widower with a daughter named Lolita; Dora (Frances Conroy) is a frigid real estate dealer; Carmen (Jessica Lange) is an animal communicator; and Penny (Tilda Swinton) is trailer trash.
Far from using their seemingly bizarre lifestyles as a springboard for Murray’s sardonic quips, Jarmusch makes it clear that although their eccentricities may seem like an obvious target, these are the people living in America today. Parody and caricature are outlawed from the off. The outcome of Don’s Americana-strewn journey echoes Jarmusch’s commitment to the ideas of randomness, chance and coincidence delivering an altogether more thoughtful and true-to-life ending.
In many ways, Broken Flowers feels like an unofficial sequel to Lost in Translation. You could feasibly view it as what Bob Harris did next. In this respect, Broken Flowers, appropriately, feels the more mature film.
As is now standard for Jarmusch, the soundtrack selection is impeccable (especially Holly Golightly singing The Kink’s 'Tell Me Now So I Know' over the closing credits), the photography is simple and expressive, and the editing is unhurried and elegant. In short, it’s a film which bubbles with understated style and pathos. It’s the whole package. Broken Flowers will not only get under your skin, but into your soul.
You’ll never beat Jarmusch.
And that’s being unmerciful.
Try seeing a better film this year. You can't and won't.