September 8, 2005
by Amy Diaz
Bill Murray pretty much
smacks the Academy around and demands an Oscar in Broken Flowers, the
tale of a bachelor in search of clues about the existence of the
19-year-old son who he’s never met.
In Broken Flowers,
Murray offers yet more proof that he is a master at subtle, nuanced
acting. He is able to give his characters an interior life that we don’t
totally know but get some sense of in looks and gestures (which
themselves are slight and hint at more than they directly show).
So, seriously, an Oscar
already? Would it be so hard?
Not that Bill Murray
probably expects one — he seems resigned to be one of a group of actors
who win mountains of praise but no formal Academy recognition. Such
resignation is right at home with his latest character Don Johnston.
Yes, with a “t.” And,
unlike the neon-colored 1980s star of similar sounding name, this Don is
a gray lump of immobility. He sits on his sofa watching with only the
vaguest interest as his girlfriend Sherry (Julie Delphy) leaves him. His
response is to go to sleep. His solitary funk is interrupted only by
Winston (Jeffrey Wright) his next door neighbor. Father of what feels
like dozens of children, husband to a beautiful wife and industrious
employee at three jobs, Winston’s favorite pastime is mysteries. Thus he
is delighted when an unsigned, typewritten letter on pink paper shows up
at Don’s house to announce the existence of a son. The boy, now 19,
might be searching for his father, the letter tells Don. Perplexed by
the letter, Don seems happy to answer it by doing nothing. But Winston,
sniffing the paper, examining the postmark under a magnifying glass, is
excited to search for clues. He asks Don for a list of girlfriends from
the time and creates an elaborate trip wherein Don will visit each of
them, even the one who is dead, and search for evidence of a son.
With each living
ex-girlfriend — Laura (Sharon Stone), Dora (Frances Conroy), Carmen
(Jessica Lange) and Penny (Tilda Swanson) — Don finds some clues (pink
things, a typewriter, hints of children not on the premises) and a
variety of reactions to his appearances. One offers dinner and some
post-post-breakup sex (not to mention the spectacle of her aptly named
daughter Lolita). On the other end of the spectrum, another refuses to
let him in to her house and calls over a man who punches Don in the
face. Through it all, Don seems far more mystified by what these women
have become (and perhaps who they were when they dated him) than by
their possible status of mother to his child.
Broken Flowers is, in
some senses, an instrumental movie. Dialogue is sparse, plot development
is as frustrating incremental and undefinitive as actual life
development is. As Don says in what may be his biggest chunk of dialogue
in the film, “the past it gone … the future’s not here yet.” So, he
says, all we have is right now. But, as with actual life, “right now” is
seldom filled with high drama or big moments. Instead, it’s layers of
information, most of which we will never know, surrounded by swirls of
emotion, half of which we don’t understand.
Clever but not showy
about it, entertaining but not high energy, Broken Flowers is as cool
and intoxicating as the Ethiopian jazz that scores much of the film.