Monday, January 16, 2006

Broken Flowers

“What a load or rubbish, a complete waste of time.” Not my reaction, but that of the dear old souls who had chattered their way through the movie. It is a sentiment which seems to be quite popular: on the IMDB forums, there are those who say it is the worst movie ever made. I think the presence of Bill Murray might have led them to expect a reprise of Caddyshack. Even some Jarmusch purists are complaining that he has sold out, made the movie too accessible, starting with using Murray in the central role (as if using Johnny Depp was somehow not using a popular actor).

I really liked this movie. It is a fairly simple tale - Don receives a pink envelope containing a letter typed on pink paper,

ostensibly from a woman he had a relationship with 20 years earlier, saying that while she’d never told him, a son had been produced from their time together. That son was now in search of his father, and likely to find him. Don is a bit shaken by this news: his wannabe detective neighbour, Winston, is up to the task. He pushes Don to think back and identify the women he was with: it turns out that there were five women he had been close enough to at the time to be possible writers of the letter. Since the letter mentioned spending some time together, we’re not talking one night stands here – so five relationships, all close enough together so that they could have produced a nearly 20 year old son. Don Juan has nothing on Don Johnston! After eliminating one because she is dead, Winston organises for Don to go on a mission to “check up” on each, looking for clues, such as a fondness for pink or a typewriter. It is simply assumed that his arrival on the doorstep will not prompt a confession.

The four women were all quite different: we never really know what their attitude to Don is, our how things were between them when they split. Only the first (Laura, played by Sharon Stone) is actually pleased to see him,

but they get progressively more hostile. The second (Dora, played by Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under) is decidedly uptight: I couldn’t work out what her reaction is. I suspect a little fearful of her husband – to him, she is the “perfect little woman” – but he is quite keen to have Don stay for dinner. They eat the most awful looking processed food – Don won’t eat it at all, except for a line of carrots. Then the next woman, Carmen (Jessica Lange) who is incredibly fake (an “animal communicator”) says she doesn’t eat, when he asks her if she’ll have dinner. It is something she really doesn’t want to do, but he’s not picking up on it – I rather suspect that Carmen and her assistant (Chloë Sevigny) are together. Then he’s out in redneck territory for Penny (an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton)

– he only has to ask if she has kids and she’s all upset and the guys are swarming around our Don, giving him a beating. She does, however, have a pink typewriter.

I think Don does learn something on this journey. He is watching a movie about Don Juan as the movie opens, and there are plenty who refer to him as one. The truth is better put by the woman we see dumping him: he’s too old to get away with the Don Juan thing any longer, and ought really settle down with someone of an appropriate age. I think that he comes to recognize the truth of this: sure, he does get to sleep with Laura, and it looked like he might be welcome back, but he encounters plenty of women as he moves about, women he’s interested in but does nothing about because they are now out of his reach, too young.

I also think Jarmusch had a lot of fun embedding clues in the movie that didn’t mean anything - symbols and connections you can’t trust. There was the fact that the letter was pink: it turns out that all of the women demonstrate some interest in pink things. The last even has a pink typewriter. But when he gets back, he gets another pink letter, but not from the same person as the first. There were strange things going on with names: he was Don Johnston, so several thought of Don Johnson, yet one immediately knew him as his wife’s old flame. Carmen’s pet, the one who got her into being an “animal communicator” was also Winston. His first two women had rhyming names - Laura and Dora: her husband was Ron, which he pointed out rhymed with Don. I really don’t think these things meant a thing. Then there was Laura’s daughter; she seems pretty promiscuous from the start, walks around Don naked, is Lolita.

And yet, Don attributes significance to seeing a young fellow twice, a pink ribbon he’s carrying and the fact that fatherhood “is not a real good thing to talk about”: he becomes convinced this fellow is his son. And maybe he is: we never find out.

The overwhelming thing about this film is that it is very much a visual document: there is not a whole lot of talking, it doesn’t seem to be a big thing for Don these days. Instead, there are long lingering takes in which nothing much happens - I got the sense that Don had become becalmed.


Blogger t selwyn said...

The whole thing is "becalmed" to the point of REM sleep. I note that the most boring people who write the most boring reviews are the only people who find this most boring movie any good.

4:45 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

I took a look at your blog: the fact that I am boring to someone such as yourself is immensely pleasing to me.

5:01 PM  
Anonymous Heather said...

I note that the most boring people who write the most boring reviews are the only people who find this most boring movie any good.

Hahahahaha! What a brilliantly original, creative and interesting comment!

I preferred the review. I will see this movie. That probably makes me some kind of dull snooty pseudo-intellectual type.

Sounds like a similar style to Lost In Translation? Anything like?

6:20 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Hi Heather

My immediate reaction is that there were huge differences between this movie and Lost in Translation, which is something which pissed a lot of viewers off. But then I try to put my finger on the differences and it becomes hard. I think one major thing is that Coppola's movie was teeming with images, whereas in this movie, things are filmed much more slowly, lots of lingering shots of Bill Murray doing absolutely nothing, rather than of him watching stuff. It reflects a major difference between the two of them: Bob is a reluctantly committed family man, with the attendant troubles and despite it not being a very empowering relationship for him. Don has pursued the opposite lifestyle, of refusing to commit. The movie shows where that gets him. While I was watching, I was seeing closer connections to Steve Martin's Shopgirl than to Lost in Translation, if that's any help.

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Heather said...

Haven't seen Shopgirl, but anything starring Jason Schwartzman has to be worth a lookie.

I've been looking through the IMDB comments and out of the coherent ones (ie, those that don't just pour scorn without any reasoned debate) many favour Broken Flowers over Lost in Translation. So, that's definitely enough to engrave it (also Shopgirl) on my must-watch stone tablet! Cheers!

2:29 PM  

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