"Broken Flowers", the newest film from writer/ director Jim Jarmusch, is a very good study of one man's journey for meaning in his life. The film is funny at times, touching at times and very, very slow. The pacing is almost glacial. There are a lot of shots which end with Bill Murray's character staring off screen as the film does a slow (very slow) fade away. I don't mind this, but I feel that people should be aware of it before they go. Unfortunately, much like people feel it is okay to talk in theaters because they are conditioned to watching DVDs at home, and talking during the film, people are conditioned to expect a faster pace in their films. The majority of films released today barely hold an image for two seconds, so afraid that the attention of the audience will wander. If a film is for adults, don't worry about this. But I think Jarmusch takes it to the other extreme in "Flowers", the slow fades are nice, but there are too many and they impact the film.
Murray is clearly making a new cottage industry for himself. In his last few films, which were, coincidentally, his most well-reviewed films, he plays very quiet people, observing a lot of the action around him, essentially transforming himself into the straight man. In "Lost in Translation", he played an actor in Japan, making a commercial, lost in the sea of culture swirling around him. In "Flowers", he plays a role which is even more cerebral, but the portrayal works. We watch Johnston as he thinks about things. Not exactly thrilling on paper, but Murray makes it work.
Jarmusch sets up the film to allow Murray to react to the various characters he comes into contact with. His relationship with Winston, played by Jeffrey Wright, is humorous and adds a lot to the portrayal of each. For Murray, this solidifies our feelings that he is lost, nothing to do, nothing to care about. When Winston presents him with the plan, Johnston is so reluctant to participate that when he eventually does, we get the depth of his longing for something to do.
Wright's character is funny and multifaceted. With five kids, three jobs and a hobby, he is a ball of energy compared to Murray, which also adds a lot of depth to Murray's character. Their relationship is unique, funny and interesting. When Winston calls Don, Johnston springs (well, for his character anyway) over to his house to help.
As Johnston visits each of his former girlfriends, he reacts to the craziness in each of their lives. Two of these works really well, the other two don't, creating an uneven balance. Stone and Lange seem to have the most richly observed characters. Their lives are unique and strange, polar opposites from each other, allowing Murray to react and create some real, genuine laughter. Conroy's Dora is stiff and emotionless and I didn't get any connection between them. Dora's husband (Christopher McDonald) is slightly amusing, but the sequence is too long. Conversely, Tilda Swinton's Penny is on screen for all of two minutes, making her role the shortest and most difficult to accept and understand.
A couple of times, people mistake Don's name for the former "Miami Vice" star. He quietly corrects them. This seems like a joke that wasn't completely worked out. Is Jarmusch trying to make fun of Don Johnson's past? If so, the idea seems half-baked.
It seems odd to me that Murray is receiving so much acclaim for such low key performances. His performances are so good, that he deserves the acclaim, but for someone who started his career in high energy comedies, the transformation is all the more remarkable. I thought Murray was great in "Lost in Translation" and he is very good here. But after "Translation", "Life Aquatic" and now "Broken Flowers", each performance seems to have slightly less energy, as though he is simply content to stand and react. And the performances work. But I wonder if his next film will feature him sleeping through the entire film. It seems like the next natural step. And Murray will no doubt make it work.
"Broken Flowers" is a very good, but not great film. It features a very good performance from Murray and some interesting supporting characters. But the pacing is so slow and the supporting performances are uneven, robbing the film of lasting interest, greatness and longevity.