The cinetrix blames her ennui on Bill Murray. He makes it look so easy, so chic, stretched across tasteful dun-colored sofas wearing one of a series of interchangeable Fred Perry track suits in the new Jarmusch flick Broken Flowers. Murray plays Don Johnston, a name that elicits either a disbelieving "Don Johnson?" or else a mildly contemptuous "Don Juan" reference from everyone he meets.
Of course, if it were up to Don, he'd meet barely anyone at all, what with all the sofa surfing and girlfriend-ignoring he's been doing since making a mint in computers. But it's not up to him. Somehow he's ceded responsibility to his neighbor Winston, an Ethopian immigrant and self-styled detective played with customary elan by Jeffrey Wright.
After Don receives an unsigned letter from a former paramour informing him that she had his now 19-year-old son, it is Winston who insists that Don track down and visit the women he dated then to see whether he can determine which one made him a latter-day babydaddy. Look for clues, he urges Don. Typewriters, backboards. And bring the women pink flowers.
With a nice nod to the strange relationship between Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson in Double Indemnity [Don calls after Winston, "I love you, too."], Jarmusch has Winston, a regular Sam Spade, Sherlock Holmes, Mike Hammer, and Dolomite in one, pull together an itinerary, reservations, maps, even a travel CD of Ethopian music--"good for thinking"--and just like that, Don and the movie hit the road.
I know what you're thinking: the road? Not in a Jarmusch movie? Yeah, I was shocked, too. What's different is that this road movie, unlike most in American cinema today, leads Don to more top-flight actresses of a certain age than any movie since 8 Femmes, which, being French, hardly counts.
First up is Sharon Stone, Nascar widow and mother of the aptly named Lolita. But that "Haze woman" never looked like Stone. However, there's no sign of a son, or a sun, there [although there is quite a moon], so Don moves on to Dora [Frances Conroy] in suburbia. A former flower child, Dora is rich--she and her husband are in real estate, selling soulless trophy homes just like theirs--and childless.
At this point I could continue to rattle off the actresses [a worse-for-wear Jessica Lange, a reliably fierce Tilda Swinton] and rate the relative skill of their plastic surgeons, trainers, etc., but where's the fun in that? Suffice it to say that Broken Flowers is the sort of film where, at the end, you can't believe Patricia Clarkson wasn't in it.
In its way, Broken Flowers shares a prediliction with porn, at least as identified by Umberto Eco, in its refusal to elide the mechanics of everyday life. Porn does it to break up the fucking--think of the hilarious Log-jammin' line, "He fixes her cable?" in The Big Lebowski if you need an example. But here, the interesting stuff happens in the interstices, the getting from point A to point B, the anonymous rental cars, airports, and hotel rooms that have long held a fascination for Jarmusch. We're encouraged to linger, to savor strange coincidences, like a dog named Winston, and cinematic shoutouts [an unseen character named Lianna; a beat-up Murray coming to in a field a la Chinatown].
And then there are the airplane dreams. In transit, the truly neither here nor there Don dreams of the women in his life in nonlinear sequences that are wonderfully edited, phantasmagorical, and--if you'll indulge the cinetrix--lowercase "f" fellini-esque [I'm thinking particularly of Guido's dreams in Otto e mezzo]. Can we deduce from their complexity that Don, inert appearance to the contrary, has a rich inner life that helped him land all of these fascinating women? Not entirely, but these liminal interludes were by far my favorite moments in the film.
If you even had to ask, clearly you need a remedial course in Jarmusch's patented the-journey-is-the-destination oeuvre. Allow me to recommend Mystery Train, which the cinetrix was fortunate enough to catch at the Brattle [as a double bill with Big Time, which someone really needs to release on DVD already] a week before seeing Broken Flowers. It rehearses so many of Jarmusch's ongoing obsessions that it's as good a place to start [or start over] as any. I'll leave you with a little dialogue so you can see what I mean: