A Slight Change
|Starring:||Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton, Julie Delpy|
Jim Jarmusch is an independent film icon — arguably one of the most influential American directors of the past two decades. Interestingly, given his very distinct voice, Jarmusch is actually at his best when his films are at their most accessible. “Broken Flowers” is the closest Jarmusch has come to making a “mainstream” movie and, in my opinion, it’s his strongest effort since 1984’s “Stranger Than Paradise.” It’s the first film I’ve seen thus far in 2005 that will, no doubt, make my Top 10 list at year’s end (“Mysterious Skin” is also a strong contender).
Bill Murray continues on in “Lost in Translation” and “The Life Aquatic” mode, playing a successful but despondent character going through something of a mid-life crisis. His name is Don Johnston, and he’s amassed a small fortune in the world of computers. His existence undergoes a major upheaval when, soon after his young girlfriend Sherry (Julie Delpy) leaves him, he receives an anonymous letter from an ex-lover claiming that he fathered a 19-year-old son. Furthermore, his son is now on the road searching for the man.
With exuberant and unsolicited assistance from his wannabe private eye friend Winston (Jeffrey Wright) — a family man whose life is a stark contrast to Don’s — the aging bachelor sets off on a trip across the United States to find the mother of his child. He visits four very different potential candidates, the free-spirited single mother Laura (Sharon Stone), quiet, cold, and married real estate agent Dora (Frances Conroy), professional animal communicator Carmen (Jessica Lange), and the boiling over with rage Penny (an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton).
Despite the fact he’s working in more conventional territory, Jarmusch’s trademark style is still evident. While the movie progresses at a slightly quicker clip (those unfamiliar with Jarmusch will still most likely feel this film moves on the slow side) than the director’s past work, all of the elements are subtle. The drama isn’t at all forced; it gracefully builds up and washes over you.
Murray’s interpretation of Don Johnston is familiar but effective. It might be a stretch to say that one can establish a connection to the character because of how deeply his emotions are buried, but you observe him with great interest and certainly become invested in his journey. Johnston’s self-realization process inches rather than leaps forward, and it feels so refreshingly honest. He grows enough to have a character arc, but not so much that it undermines the character.
Murray has this type of character down pat. What you expect is what you get, and even if he might be coasting when taking on these kinds of roles at this point, it still works. The supporting players also do admirable jobs. Sharon Stone is vibrant and energetic as Laura, although Alexis Dziena who plays her daughter — the appropriately named Lolita — has the most…errr…attention grabbing moment. And Tilda Swinton is just downright frightening in her small amount of screen time.
“Broken Flowers” actually feels more like a “Bill Murray movie” than a “Jim Jarmusch movie,” but the director’s fans shouldn’t be turned off by this assessment. In fact, Jarmusch’s talent is most apparent in how he tailors his style to suit the story and his actors. His directorial hand, so obvious (and that’s a compliment) in his previous films, is less noticeable here. There’s a beauty to the way all of the movie’s elements coalesce so smoothly, and the result is an immensely satisfying work, which feels like it was made with little strain (although, of course, it was made with a lot of strain) on the part of the filmmakers and cast.