Broken Flowers

dir: Jim Jarmusch
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By all that is unholy, I haven’t disliked a film this much in ages.

It’s kind of refreshing. To actively dislike the vast majority of a film directed by someone whose films I’ve previously loved. Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai is one of my favourite flicks. Down by Law, Stranger than Paradise and Dead Man aren’t too shabby either.

But what went wrong here? For me, Broken Flowers was a terrible experience. Outright terrible. Leaden pacing, coupled with flat, unpleasant characters, a vacuum of a central performance by Bill Murray, and a pointless plot that irritates and grates the longer it goes on.

Jarmusch is great at realising strange, mannered narratives in weird circumstances. In Broken Flowers it seems he is undone by what should have been a straight-forward dramatic story. Clods in the audience with me kept laughing at the least possible thing that happened, convinced that if they didn’t laugh other people in the audience would think they were stupid. No, laughing at something like you’re one of Pavlov’s dogs when you don’t have to, makes you look stupid. Or at least like a wanker.

A man called Don Johnston (Bill Murray) lives in a sterile environment and forlornly watches tv. Despite being a lady’s man, according to everyone around him, his current bitch (Julie Delpy) leaves him because he lacks direction. He sits around doing little and saying less.

He receives a letter informing him that he has a son, born nineteen years ago. The woman who wrote it doesn’t identify herself, so with the help of a neighbour (Jeffrey Wright), Don compiles a list of his lovers from the time and embarks on the dullest journey of discovery known thus far to mortal man.

On this journey he meets up with women who variously still have fondness for him, (Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy), and those that still hate him (Jessica Lange and an almost unrecognisable Tilda Swinton).

Then that’s it. None of the interactions, except for the first one with Sharon Stone’s character and her nympho daughter called, appropriately enough, Lolita, have anything to recommend them. The film could have ended there and I would have been happier. The film could have snapped, the reel jammed, the cinema set itself on fire in protest, and I would have enjoyed it more up to that point.

The Story is about an aging Don Juan coming to terms with his own isolation and the women he’s used and abused over the decades. The Plot is an enervating and pointless road / travel movie with nothing of value. The travel scenes are boring, whatever he experiences along the way is boring and non-descript, his end destination is insultingly empty and pretentious to boot.

Maybe that was the point. Maybe it was supposed to be so frustrating that it would be a cautionary tale against taking women for granted, or to settle down and have kids or something equally idiotic, or to live life to the fullest, and make amends with people before it’s too late. Maybe I’m not the market for this.

What that market would be is a mystery greater than what the eleven secret herbs and spices in the Colonel’s chicken are apart from salmonella, listeria and battery cage juice. I really don’t understand why Jarmusch thought this worked and why he didn’t shoot himself and Bill Murray in the head instead. I’m not sure how literally I mean that right now.

The first half hour of the flick is one of the hardest sets of 30 minute blocks I’ve ever had to endure in my life. This includes anaesthetic-less surgery, wisdom tooth extraction and passing kidney stones. This also involves stuff at the hands of police after having gone home in the back of a divvy van, which I won’t go into right now. I don’t know what combination of factors it was, but whatever they were, they irritated the bejesus out of me.

Maybe I missed something, maybe I was in a bad mood. Maybe I’m sick of Bill Murray playing the same character he’s been playing since Lost in Translation. Perhaps not getting the Best Actor Oscar for his role in LIT has warped his reality to the extent where he will now keep playing that same feckless character until they give him some kind of award. That kind of trophy-philia is just scary.

To be fair, at least I liked him in Translation. He actually did stuff. Cracked some jokes, sang some songs, actually did a bit of acting, and even if he hadn’t been good in it, at least I would have had Scarlett Johansson’s lips to gaze at.

This has nothing to support it. Bill is the entire film, and the only support he’s given is a character name similar enough to Don Johnson, ‘star’ of Miami Vice, such that whenever he introduces himself to people, they have a quick double-take until he says “Johnston, with a T”. That is comedy gold, right there.

I smell something, but it isn’t comedy. One of the film’s true villains is one of Don’s ex-loves called Carla, played by Jessica Lange. Lange was never really considered that great an actress back in the day (or now). Most people remember and prize her role in the depressing biopic about actress Frances Farmer. She was considered something of a beauty, in her prime.

It would be churlish to criticise her solely for her appearance in Broken Flowers, because that would seem to be sexist, superficial and boorish.

I don’t give a fuck. It’s not her age that is the problem. The problem is she had so much botox injected into her face that she looked like something truly not of this world. It’s really something disturbing to see. In attempting to remove the signs of natural aging, they removed all the humanity out of her face. And what remains behind Must Be Destroyed.

With stakes, with silver and with fire. That face… haunts me yet. This isn’t anything relevant to her character, who plays a ‘credible’ doctor who Doctor Doolittles with animals. There is just in her face the spectre of those who’ve become supernatural, like Michael Jackson, Cher and that obscene anti-human woman who pops up on Believe or Not type shows who’s spent millions on plastic surgery and looks less real than a desert mirage, through unnatural means.

I can keep listing stuff that bugged me, including nearly every single acting performance, but that would be turning a dead horse into jam. And this flick is definitely a carcass of a film. I never thought I could dislike a Jim Jarmusch film this much, but it’s happened, and I am the lesser man because of it.

I can take his glacial pacing, his odd characters, his sloppy scene transitions and his stilted and unnatural dialogue and performances. But this time it broke me.

As a token attempt at balance, my redheaded girlfriend enjoyed the film, and thought it was quite entertaining, so maybe I was, just to horrify some of the women out there, on the rag and not in the right frame of mind to enjoy the flick.

So make up your own damn minds. Who are you going to trust: me or Bill Murray?

I thought so.


2 more pleasant torture techniques involving needle-nose pliers and Phillips-head screwdrivers I can think of that would have been more enjoyable than sitting through this out of 10

“That was quite an outfit you weren't wearing earlier.” – Don, Broken Flowers.