Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Bill Murray Show!

This is an older review of mine, posted as a favor to a friend. I saw Broken Flowers in theaters this summer...

It always seems difficult to make any just decision on movies that get hoards of acclaim either verbal or written (or especially both), and this verbose acclaim reaches you before you reach your seat at the cinema. It is especially difficult if the film's ambivalent-to-everything attitude is the primary method by which one may come to understand its construction. And why is it always starring Bill Murray?

Okay, so Broken Flowers won the Jury Prize at Cannes this year. Jarmusch has always been a cult favorite. And I will freely admit that I have somehow never seen another one of his films. But all I could think as Broken Flowers was abruptly brought to a close was, "Why?" And I don't mean this in a bad way. Perhaps I am thinking too Oscar-y, but Broken Flowers is such a quiet film, I could just as easily believed that it may slide into cult-dom, allowing dust to accumulate on its shrink-wrapped case on some metal rack at an independent video store waiting for some slightly geeky guy with his cuter-than-he-is girlfriend to say, "Oh, this is a great movie." But no, Cannes has deemed it better than that (though, didn't I just last week see a million copies of Van Sant's Palm D'Or and Best Director winning Elephant on the ten dollar sale at the local Virgin Megastore???).

But I digress.

Broken Flowers is a tough cookie to crack. Perhaps that is its appeal. It has a hell of a lot more heart than the Lost in the Aquatic Life of Steve Rushmores. Murray has minimized his already dead pan performance down to the slightest eyebrow twitches and shoulder shrugings. I've read his face compared to a Daumier print, and it really is. Never before have the slight scars on his cheeks resembled tears. Or perhaps, never before has Murray left behind enough irony to actually empathize with him and allow those marks to resemble tears. Make no mistake, Murray is quite good in this film. But he is not the only element to the film, and it is these other aspects that trouble me.

The one thing that I did find very surprising about Broken Flowers is its pacing. Other reviews would have you believe that Murray gets this mysterious pink envelope and off he goes. No. The First Act of Broken Flowers goes well into the second act, and it feels as though half of the film has transpired before he actually steps into the airport - hipster sunglasses in tote, of course. (Side note: Is Bill Murray really just one long sight gag?) The visits paid to the different women, in an attempt to discover the mother of his alleged child, are rendered completely unremarkably. Each visit unnecessary, almost. But not quite. And I believe that it is this "not quite" that Jarmusch is attempting to stand for purpose here. It is infuriating to put your finger on, but liberating when comparing it to the kind of not-an-ounce-of-subtlety, do-not-make-up-your-own-mind hollywood approach du jour.

Broken Flowers never really says anything, explicitly. Even the message is completely open to interpretation. I left the theater saying "Fuck all of these family themed movies," then later wondered if the nuclear family was the one thing that the film was attacking. Murray was fine with his life until the idea of family was introduced, then it was turned upside down. None of the respective women have the Mother, Father, Children structure. A radiant (but all to recognizable) Connroy refuses to have her sequestering husbands children. Stone's husband was lost to a race car explosion. Lange is divorced. And Swinton, well, who the hell knows, but it's not nuclear, that for sure.

But there's the happy Ethiopian family next door. The wife is radiant and sexy. There are kiddies GALORE. And the father, Winston, is Murray's best (only?) friend. Winston is the man who sends him on this journey for discovery. What then does it mean that he does not discover. Jarmusch does not really let you know. And with a unspecified visitor at the end, it would seem the film that you are already watching has come back at you to say, "ha! You still sure don't know just what I am." You have your suspicions, but they are never comfortably resolved. So I guess this is why it garnered all the acclaim. And I guess I agree. But really, does it have to be so Goddamn hip?


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