When an anonymous letter arrives at his door telling him he has a grown-up son who may be searching for him, Don Johnston (Murray) egged on by his wannabe-detective neighbour Winston (Wright) goes on a cross-country journey in search of the old flames
However you prefer your Bill Murray to be served — Lost In Translation’s sad, worldweary blend or Groundhog Day’s wryly cynical cuppa — this sharply observed comedy-drama from writer-director Jim Jarmusch should slip down nicely. Here Murray portrays Don Johnston, a middle-aged former Don Juan (although rather a cackhanded one, as constantly referenced with riffs on his near-namesake) confronted by his past, who half-heartedly embarks on a tour on which he learns as much about himself as about the women who may have borne him a son.
Broken Flowers shares much of the tone of Translation, slightly disconnected yet full of heart. There’s also an autumn-years quirkiness and exasperation with American suburbia that’s reminiscent of About Schmidt, as Don travels from one ex-girlfriend’s home town to another in a series of nondescript rental cars, arriving with a bunch of pink flowers each time (a suggestion from enthusiastic neighbour Winston, who thinks the colour of the bouquet may get a reaction since the anonymous letter was on pink paper).
His revisited conquests are a disparate bunch, in keeping with our hero’s muddled emotional state. There’s an affectionate meeting with Laura (Sharon Stone) and her daughter Lolita (who truly lives up to her name), then a bizarre one with prim and proper Dora (Frances Conroy) and her husband (played by the wonderful Christopher McDonald, most remembered as Geena Davis’ irritating hubby in Thelma & Louise). Most enjoyable, though, is Don’s visit with Carmen (Jessica Lange, simply lovely), an ex-lawyer-turned-animal communicator. In fact, all the actresses (including Tilda Swinton as ex number four) give wonderful performances in the short screen time each of them is allowed.
But the most inspired teaming is that of Murray, terrific throughout, and director Jarmusch (the pair previously worked together on Coffee And Cigarettes, which shares this movie’s episodic tone). Jarmusch has already displayed an empathy for the outsider and the loner in movies like Dead Man and Stranger Than Paradise, and in Murray he has a perfect foil, a melancholy, still man who holds this journey into mid-life crisis with a bemused loveability and makes it a trip truly worth joining him on.
Subtle, warm direction from Jim Jarmusch and another Oscar-worthy performance from Bill Murray will the Academy just give him a statue, already?