Murray blossoms in `Flowers'

He plays bachelor who reconnects with four former lovers

Movie Reviews

August 12, 2005|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Bill Murray underplays like mad in Broken Flowers, as an emotionally constricted bachelor who may or may not have fathered a son by one of four women he slept with 20 years earlier.

Extrapolating on the screen persona he presented to such acclaim in 2003's Lost in Translation, Murray once again plays a soul so guarded, so unsure of himself that he dare not do anything, lest he lose his way even further - a character who elicits equal parts laughter and sympathy from his audience. No actor displays that sort of measured confusion better than Murray, and his Don Johnston proves far more attention-grabbing onscreen than he sounds.

Writer-director Jim Jarmusch, who specializes in measured, protracted, quirky films that few people outside art houses ever see, uses Murray to great effect. True, it's a character we've seen before (in Lost in Translation, to which the character, if not the movie, owes a great debt), but here Murray gets to dominate the screen, with no other actor to vie consistently for our attention. He obviously relishes the opportunity and doesn't let his fans down. Still, he doesn't challenge them either.

Recently dumped by his girlfriend (Julie Delpy, the first in a series of noted actresses who play his various paramours), Johnston seems content to live the rest of his life inert. Unfortunately, his best friend, Winston (Jeffrey Wright), is a restless spirit constantly looking for clues to anything; he's like the ultimate fan of TV's CSI series, always pondering things through a magnifying glass, looking to solve the big puzzles he's sure are around somewhere.

When Johnston receives an unsigned letter, from a woman claiming he fathered a son 20 years ago, he's willing to let the matter drop. But not so Winston, who investigates and discovers it must have been written by one of four women. Again, Johnston betrays little interest, but Winston yearns for the vicarious thrill of watching from a distance as his friend solves the case. He books the flights, rents the cars, maps the routes and sends Johnston off on a voyage of discovery.

What he finds are four vastly different women, and much of the fun in Broken Flowers comes from watching Murray's face as he encounters each one. Jarmusch's script never betrays what he thinks, but Murray's face suggests plenty, most of it not happy.

Each of Johnston's former flames has turned out differently, by turns trampy (Sharon Stone), flaky (Jessica Lange), scared (Frances Conroy) and embittered (Tilda Swinton). How could one man have been attracted to such disparate women? Johnston keeps asking. More importantly, is he responsible for how they turned out?

One of the movie's chief drawbacks is that it plays more like a series of vignettes than a coherent narrative. And the differences between the four women are so drastic as to seem contrived. But its pointed humor, especially when it comes to the lasting damage that can be left behind by a profligate male libido, rarely seems forced. And its insights seem honest and fresh; Jarmusch's film offers no resolutions, only small shafts of hope that even emotional disconnects may not be permanent.

The film also features what may be the best use of a nude scene to generate laughter since Diane Keaton accidentally flashed Jack Nicholson in Something's Gotta Give.

Murray's Johnston doesn't exactly rejoin the human race in Broken Flowers, but the possibility of his fatherhood does force him to let down his guard just a bit. With his determined blankness, Murray offers few insights, outside of what the audience can come up with on its own. Which may explain the film's ultimate success: It forces you to fill in the blanks, then refuses to judge whether you're right or wrong. It's almost like the audience writes its own script, and everybody appreciates his or her own work.

Broken Flowers

Starring Bill Murray, Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange

Directed by Jim Jarmusch

Released by Focus Features

Rated R (language, nudity and brief drug use)

Time 105 minutes


Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.