“That was quite an outfit you weren’t wearing earlier.” – Don Johnston, Broken Flowers (2005)
At the current point in time that I am writing this, I have seen just over 1,000 unique films. Be it short films, three hour epics, cult movies or blockbuster hits, I have seen 1,000 different pieces of film. That being said, less than 50 of these titles have received a full five star rating. Albeit some of the films I have rated lower deserved a higher rating and vice versa, it’s still rare that I come across that truly perfect film. In comes Broken Flowers, a film that should have bagged Bill Murray an Oscar, but considering he wasn’t even nominated, that’s a hard thing to do.
Jim Jarmusch as a director is someone I have heard a lot about, but seen almost nothing. After watching Broken Flowers alone, I can tell his direction is that of a visionary. It’s clear throughout this film that he actually has something to say through his work. A message that can be adapted and transferred to an audience quite easily. The desperation of the Don Johnston character is a sudden change to the dynamic of the film. It’s not sudden enough to throw a viewer, but works in a way that surprises both viewer and character. The opening of the film particularly sets the scene rather well. Through some truly solid cinematography and a masterful soundtrack, the setting of the film is complete. Luckily this is not a one time ordeal, and the cinematography and soundtrack work hand in hand throughout.
Obviously if it weren’t for the incredible and congenial performance of Bill Murray, this film would get nowhere. He plays the deadpan Don Johnston surprisingly well, a role that is in a presumably similar vein to his role in Lost in Translation (2003). It’s quite the standard plot, not pushing for any new stories or breaking down barriers. But, the film doesn’t have to do so, and it’s certainly as enjoyable as you would expect. One of the main props to this film is not just Murray and the performance, but the character also. It’d be difficult to think of any other character in this role. Quiet, emotionless, but at the same time a character we have ease connecting with because of a human like nature.
Jeffrey Wright and the rest of the cast do a great job of supporting Murray through what should have been a multiple award winning movie. Broken Flowers, to me, is the one that got away from awards ceremonies. The key component of this film is that it isn’t overly calculated or heavy on the layering. At best, it’s a simple and static plot that is credible because of the talent involved. Tilda Swinton, a phenomenal actor, appears for what seems like all of two minutes. The focus is of course on Murray, and at times it revolves around how he interacts with the women of his past. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to rely on symbolism, with the pink bouquet of flowers being presented rather rapidly and vividly throughout.
Not only was this a film I was looking forward to watching, but it was one I wanted to write about. It’s got a very auter feeling to it, although produced by some major Hollywood companies. Bill Murray being attached as the poster boy of the film works even better, especially given how huge a Murray fan I am. For Murray to improve on his earlier work seems impossible. You’ve got unforgettable characters like Phil from Groundhog Day (1993) and Steve Zissou from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). In comparison to his work in Broken Flowers, it’s safe to say that neither role comes close to how good his work is here.
To talk of the individual female performances in the film would actually be rather difficult. The primary reason for this is that none are given enough screen time to give a lasting impression on the viewer. For me, Swinton’s performance was the only one worth noting, and that in part may be due to how brief a role it was. The other three performances include their unique quirks but amount to nothing more than speed bumps in Johnston’s journey. The fact that the film shows the impact Johnston had on their lives however is a nice touch. It gives off a very ambiguous ending to each of the relationships in a way that leaves everything open to interpretation.
There are a lot of unforgettable and marvellous scenes throughout this film. It’s all thanks to the direction of Jarmusch who works tirelessly in perfecting his shots and producing the perfect scenes. With this much to think about, it’s no surprise that everything looks and feels integral to the plot. No scene is without significance or meaning, and with that mindset this film quickly becomes an in depth look at love, or in this case, a lack of it. For something so formulaic to work so well is a genuine surprise to me, considering most formula following films don’t do so well. It’s an interesting mix. A break from the norm that just so happens to do everything expected of the genre.
A sorrowful and disgusting look through the eyes of a former playboy in the form of Don Johnston. You feel regret, anger and genuine sadness for a character all at once. It’s through clever dialogue and a perfect performance from Bill Murray as to why this happens. Arguably his best work, Murray works extremely competently with Jim Jarmusch, who I look forward to watching work in the near future. To say this film being one of the best of all time would be a fairly broad argument to make. It definitely has the right components to be that perfect film, but whether or not it does so is entirely up to the viewer.
For me though, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable movie that I don’t think I could rewatch. It’s the same grouping as Birdman (2014) in that regard. A second or even third viewing may ruin a certain aspect of the magic from the first time around. Still, what a first time viewing Broken Flowers was. So perfect in its direction and acting that it manages to subvert what should have been a dull storyline and create one of the greatest anti-love stories of all time. This film is worth your time, hell it’s worth a lot more than that. It’s a film with no beginning and no end. We’ve dived into the life of a random ladies man and followed him for a few days of his life. It’s an open ending, one that doesn’t spark happiness or romance, but misery and eternal loneliness.