Broken Flowers

on August 05, 2005 by Sheri Linden
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The sweetly melancholy "Broken Flowers," winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes 2005, is Jim Jarmusch's most mainstream effort to date, but it remains firmly within the writer-director's tradition of episodic films that resist sentimentality and neat wrap-ups. Bill Murray's patented brand of deadpan ennui is a sure fit for the tale of a middle-aged Don Juan (named Don Johnston) who embarks on a reluctant trip down memory lane. The pilgrimage lets Murray play opposite a dream cast of actresses in five discrete sequences.

Fed up with his refusal to settle down, Don's girlfriend (Julie Delpy, all too briefly) moves out of his oversize house on the same day a mysterious pink envelope arrives in the mail. The letter -- quaintly typewritten, in red ink -- informs Don that he's the father of a 19-year-old son who might be looking for him. In an offbeat spin on unknown-father syndrome, the mother of that boy leaves her bombshell missive unsigned. Don is blasé about the revelation, but his amateur sleuth neighbor, Winston (a delightful turn by Jeffrey Wright), eagerly digs in to solve the mystery, asking for a list of Don's girlfriends from 20 years ago and creating a road-trip itinerary complete with plane, hotel and car-rental reservations. Mainly as a distraction from the oppressive emptiness of home, where he perches on the leather couch like an uncomfortable guest (a striking contrast to the welcoming, lived-in clutter of Winston's five-child household), Don agrees to hit the road.

Don's visits to four exes take him through unidentified locales that all have a rural-suburban feel, though from various points on the economic scale. His offering of pink flowers meets varying responses: open arms from the widowed mother (Sharon Stone) of a teenage daughter appropriately named Lolita (Alexis Dziena), awkward hospitality from an ex-hippie who's now into real estate (Frances Conroy), condescension from a New Age animal communicator (Jessica Lange) and outright hostility from a backwoods biker chick (a raven-haired, unrecognizable Tilda Swinton). Pell James ("The King") plays a helpful florist employee named Sun Green, in a nod to a character in the film "Greendale" by Neil Young, who's worked with Jarmusch on several projects.

In the kind of angst-weighted role that's become his specialty, Murray delivers wonderfully dry comic moments as a weary but willing traveler. "Broken Flowers" ends on a pleasingly poignant note without relinquishing its gentle absurdity. Starring Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton, Julie Delpy, Alexis Dziena and Chloe Sevigny. Directed and written by Jim Jarmusch. Produced by Jon Kilik and Stacey Smith. A Focus release. Comedy/Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 105 min

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