Friday, October 13, 2006

Broken Flowers

We all wonder about our past. Parts of it we cherish, other parts we regret. But many times we wonder about things not as they were, but as they could have and might have been. “Did she ever really hear me when I whispered ‘I love you’?” “I wonder where he is now.” “What would have happened if I’d stayed?” There are times when we actually find out what happened, and these times frequently end up in ways we’d never expect.

Broken Flowers spends a lot of time and energy looking back on the past of Don Johnston. Played by Bill Murray, he is a middle-aged bachelor who nearly defines the term. He’s had a string of girlfriends, and the movie opens with us viewing his listless form on the couch as his current live-in girlfriend is in the process of leaving him. It seems he’s not exactly happy about it, but he does little to prevent it.

After a bit of loafing, he finds a letter written to him that has come with the mail. It tells him that he has a 19-year-old son who might be on his way to try and find him. Never knowing he’d had any offspring, but also believing it to be entirely possible, he brings the letter to his friend for his input.

Don’s friend is his neighbor, Winston, played by Jeffrey Wright, who apparently never fully realized his dream of being a criminal investigator. Winston seems to have a more appropriate reaction to the letter. Taken aback, he obsesses over the fact that his friend might be a father. He gets Don to remember as many lovers as he had about 19-20 years ago, and even talks him into locating them. He plans an elaborate vacation of dread which includes finding these women, catching up, and trying to look for clues which would indicate writing the letter to Don and/or mothering a 19-year-old son.

And so, Don embarks on a journey that would make the bravest person nauseous with anxiety: searching for and catching up with four ex-girlfriends. He seems resigned to the fate that he’s probably a father, and we don’t get much of a sense of how he’s feeling towards re-visiting the ghosts in his closet.

This unremarkable film does elicit some remarkable feelings. There’s the intrigue of the environment he finds each woman in. There’s the extreme anticipation of their reactions to him. There are the four various life situations and relationships in which he finds each of them. Each actress who portrayed one of his former lovers was excellent: Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, and Tilda Swinton all commanded the screen in their roles. This, to me, was by far the best part of the movie. Each woman has different feelings towards him, and watching these individual stories unfold as a result of him showing up out of nowhere was fascinating. It forces us to confront our fears, expectations, and hopes about reuniting with old flames. Have the years made them bitter, complacent, desperate? Are they more in love with me now than ever before? Have they been ok without me?

The plot feels very driven at some points and directionless in others. Armed with clues about which woman might have written him the letter, he keeps noticing things that might prove he’s on the right track. But nothing is confirmed. It ends up being simply a possibility. Possibility upon possibility, again and again. He ends up more confused than anything.

I was disappointed in Bill Murray’s character. He couldn’t have been more bland if he’d been an unsalted saltine. There was just…nothing. We follow him as he meanders around the country, disinterestedly poking around in the lives of former lovers for a day or two, then moving on. We have no clue what he thinks or feels about maybe being a father. It just seems like he’s lost a sock somewhere that he doesn’t really care about but he has nothing better to do than sift through the laundry basket.

Winston gives us a little comic relief, which is much needed. Most of the sense we get from the movie is poignant apathy. Don’t ask me how that works, because I still don’t know. As Don tries to find his son, he grows increasingly obsessed and discouraged. He begins to see signs everywhere, but what he has to go on is so vague that there’s no conclusive end to be reached.

Rating: -12

While some of the acting is solid, there is enough cardboard-ness in Bill Murray to make up for it. While the overall look and feel of the film is quite poetic, it doesn’t inspire. Even its thought-provoking quality is too limited to sink in. I’ve never watched a more dissatisfying movie in all my life. Even films I don’t like tend to have at least one or two redeeming qualities I can stuff in my pocket. But not Broken Flowers. It’s the realization of “What if?” without the hope of an answer.


Moshe Reuveni said...

Thanks for the comments you left on my Broken Flowers review -
You have a great blog going!

Wicked Little Critta said...

Thanks, same to you! I'll be sure to check in and see what's being reviewed on your blog.
Spread the joy of movies!