Movie Review
Broken Flowers
Broken Flowers poster
By Lee Tistaert     Published August 31, 2005
US Release: August 5, 2005

Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Bill Murray , ChloŽ Sevigny , Jessica Lange , Sharon Stone

Running Time: 106 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $13,736,078
16 of 143
A pretentious work by Jarmusch that is obsessed with character nuances and is careless about plot and any sense of emotional arc.
*Review has changed to a B- since initial viewing. Below is the original reaction.

Broken Flowers is exactly what I expected from writer/director Jim Jarmusch: it?s slow and meditates in various settings where not much happens, and features Bill Murray?s constant melancholy expression. Jarmusch has said on DVD commentaries that he doesn?t really like ?directing? actors, but rather likes an actor to explore their environment and pick up the nuances they need. His previous entry, Coffee & Cigarettes (C+), is an excellent example of this approach, as it is about a bunch of people in a coffeehouse (who tend to smoke) who simply talk the entire time. It was obvious that the experiment was heavily improvisational, but not enough of the actors/comedians could rise above the static locale and their boring topics. Broken Flowers shows signs of similar improvisations (by Murray), but still limps with not much to grab onto.

Don Johnston (Murray) is a lonely and depressed middle-aged man who receives an anonymous letter from a previous love. He finds out that he is a father and that his son might be on his way to meet him, but doesn?t know who sent it to him. His friendly next-door neighbor (played by Jeffrey Wright) persuades Don to create a list of his past relationships, and sends him on a trip to reconnect with each of these women to find out which one of them sent the letter (and perhaps correct the past).

Neither the story nor the film?s trailer ever grabbed me; sometimes trailers can be deceiving but this was not such a case. Touted by critics as one of the better films of the year, Broken Flowers is a pretentious work by Jarmusch (a word that could sum up his career so far) that is obsessed with character nuances and is careless about plot and any sense of emotional arc.

I?ve liked many of Murray?s comedic and dramatic performances (Groundhog Day and Rushmore are my favorites), but simply looking depressed the entire time just does not cut it, and nor do long sequences in which the actor stares into the air or simply does nothing. Though Jarmusch has made a career out of creating characters that don?t do much and who just ?explore? their stale environment, this feature (more than many of his others) shows a heightened love for Murray?s range. It is obvious in every shot that Jarmusch adores the actor, but the experiment ends up being more of a hardcore actor?s piece in need of a solid destination to reach.

We?re supposed to feel empathetic towards Don only because he is played by Murray, not because Don has any appealing features (with any other actor, Don could?ve been one of the worst movie characters of the year). Any actor who takes on this role was bound to play it deadpan the entire time (and be forced to once again, ?explore? hopelessly), and who else to play deadpan than Bill Murray? You can use that argument, but we?ve seen a deadpan Murray before ? this approach is nothing new, and it requires actual depth for a character to come off the page.

I was curious to see Don interact with his ex-girlfriends, but was very disappointed by the light material that was handed over to each of the talented actresses. Julie Delpy, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, and Tilda Swinton do what they can, but their scenes are so short and there?s not enough character development to care about any of them. The film lacks intimacy, and with talents like these, the lack of substance is frustrating. And Delpy just came from Before Sunset (B+), which was a deeply intimate and thoroughly satisfying film (I can see why she signed on here, but the comparison to Sunset just hurts this even more).

Broken Flowers is the absolute definition of an art film, but gives independent cinema a bad name. The experience is like walking into an art exhibit, looking at depressing paintings that seem to have context, and being forced to interpret everything on your own. While good art films will leave certain things ambiguous to force a conversation period afterwards, Broken Flowers leaves too many things wide open and has one of the most unsatisfying finales I?ve seen in recent time. The ending is meant to deliver a profound lesson about life, but ends up cheating the viewer. Jim Jarmusch has proven that he knows where to put the camera and elicit performances from actors, but the filmmaker needs a lesson about plot structure, which he has never accomplished.
Lee's Grade: C+
Ranked #16 of 143 between Jarhead (#15) and Paradise Now (#17) for 2005 movies.
Lee's Overall Grading: 2970 graded movies
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'Broken Flowers' Articles
  • Scott's review B-
    September 8, 2005    It definitely has a re-watch quality, and I am curious to see how it plays on a second viewing. For a movie simply evoking that curiosity, it has to be commended. -- Scott Sycamore