Julie Delpy and Bill Murray in 2005's "Broken Flowers."

Broken Flowers 
August 30, 2021

DIRECTED BY

Jim Jarmusch

STARRING

Bill Murray

Jeffrey Wright

Julie Delpy

Sharon Stone

Frances Conroy

Jessica Lange

Chloë Sevigny

Tilda Swinton

Mark Webber

 

RATED

R

RELEASED IN

2005

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 41 Mins.

T

here isn’t much to Don Johnston’s (Bill Murray) life. Rich off some smart tech-industry investments, this recent retiree is perfectly happy doing little besides lounging in his living room, watching old Hollywood movies in an array of cozy two-toned tracksuits. We hardly get to spend any of that unworried leisure time with Don in Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers (2005), though: A rug-pulling set of announcements opens

the movie. First is Don’s live-in girlfriend Sherry’s (Julie Delpy) declaration that she’s leaving; Don hadn’t seen a breakup coming until a movie afternoon was interrupted by a suitcase wheel hitting the foyer’s tile. Second is a letter. Typed out on hot pink paper, this unaddressed and vaguely written missive informs lifelong womanizer Don that he has a son. The anonymous woman claims she raised the kid alone and never planned on telling Don about him. But this 19-year-old apparently set off on a hasty road trip recently, and his mother believes that the impetus behind it, never confirmed to her, may be tracking down his long-lost father. The letter is along the lines of a courtesy notice — it’s a compassionate head’s up that works to avoid hints of sentimentality. 

 

Don seems slightly rattled but mostly unbothered. He figures he’ll just wait around to see if this warning has weight. He doesn’t seem too bummed about Sherry, either. But his neighbor and good friend Winston (Jeffrey Wright) isn’t satisfied. A mystery-novel obsessive, Winston thinks Don should go on a quest of sorts instead of idling — become a Phillip Marlowe for his own life. Winston's idea: check in on the top-5 potential baby mamas in their respective cities (Winston does some investigative work himself to pare down details) to get more information about this secret son and the woman who raised him. Don doesn’t have anything else going on, so he fulfills the reservations when flights and rental cars and hotels are booked by his charmingly invasive friend.
 

Interactions with these exes — all played evocatively by a stream of great actresses — go as one might expect; the spectrum begins and ends with surprised joy and unambiguous furor. Women like Laura (Sharon Stone), a widowed closet organizer, are happy enough to see Don again to sleep with him after cooking him dinner. There are also women like Penny (Tilda Swinton) who will erupt — in fact call on some of the men cohabitating the farm where she now lives to form a de-facto security team — at the mere suggestion of having a secret child. The other exes are played by Jessica Lange (a cryptic animal psychic) and Frances Conroy (a flower child turned conservative suburban real-estate agent). The fifth ex died years ago; Don props a bouquet on her grave and sheds a quiet tear.
   

Regardless of their attitude toward him, all the women, besides having in common a thing for pink that makes it harder to discern who could be the baby mama (we’re meant to keep thinking of the letter’s paper color via Lange’s pink sweatpants, Conroy’s pink business cards, Stone’s pink bathrobe), all also appear to have comparatively done a good deal of living. Don has, in contrast, hardly changed. He’s only sadder and more regretful now, increasingly aware of how his lifelong preference for short-lived fun haunts retirement age. As can be expected, Jarmusch ensures each interaction is maximally funny-awkward. (See a handful of his movies and you get used to everything always being presented in an often-agonizing deadpan-comic style.) Don’s exchanges with his old loves inspire laughter as much as the distinct feeling of wanting to crawl inside your skin and come out of hiding only when things seem settled.

 

After getting to the end of Broken Flowers, you might wish these small-scale reunions were more emotionally revealing — gave a better sense of past relationship arcs. But the consistent stranger-like interplay also has a pointedness. Don has ostensibly wined-and-dined so many women in his lifetime — he’s habitually prioritized short-lived transactional romances over longer-term ones (even Sherry, seemingly his longest-lasting girlfriend, feels like a mistress even though she technically isn’t one) — that ensuing stiltedness is merely a tangible illustration of how skimpily Don has invested beyond the now. His past is like a landfill; it’s rare to find anything gleaming in the rubble years later. 

 

Murray gives one of his best performances in Broken Flowers. He tinkers with his familiar comic dryness just so so that stretches of silence and expressionless line deliveries don’t suggest someone quietly making fun of everything all the time — as is so often what he has suggested in his tentpole movies — but continuously absorbing the sad reality that his lively past hasn’t done much to nourish his present. A single tear is an equivalent of an explosion. I’d have liked it if his Don were less inscrutable. But I suppose the central, mostly unanswered enigma — why is he like this — is also sort of the point. Don isn’t the type to open up, reveal his naked (emotionally, I mean) self; this is in part because he isn’t sure how to. He has gone on this paternal journey seemingly to give his empty life some delayed depth. But as the note-perfectly uncertain ending shows, it might be too late for that. A-