Broken Flowers (2005)
Starring: Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton, Julie Delpy
Directed By: Jim Jarmusch
My friend Sarah called us up Monday to see if we wanted to check out Broken Flowers, which was fortuitous since it's the only movie left in theatres that we were still interested in seeing. I've given up on the idea of going to see Must Love Dogs, as it's gotten pretty steady poor reviews, so this is the only movie that would've gotten us to go out.
Of course, now that I've seen Broken Flowers, I can no longer call the suggestion to see it as fortuitous, but at least we got to visit with an old friend. Even though the film has been almost universally praised by the critics, winning the Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival, you won't find a lot of praise here. It's funny, I keep thinking I'm a Bill Murray fan, yet I keep watching movies of his lately and walking away feeling pretty empty. I end up enjoying Murray's performance, but often the films themselves generate little more than a resounding shrug from me. Such was the case with The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, as was the case with a recent viewing of What About Bob?, as was the case with a recent re-watching of Rushmore. So why do I keep coming back for more?
Is the appeal of Bill Murray that strong that I'll keep coming back to watch mediocre indie movies that are yet another exercise in showing Murray as an aging character confronted with his place in life with a deadpan smirk on his face? Because that's all Broken Flowers is, and apparently all it needs to be to get people to fall all over themselves to heap tonnes of praise on it. My problem is that I've seen all this several times already, and enjoyed it much better when it was given to me in the form of Lost in Translation. Basically, Murray's uncanny comic timing and ability to make a quiet look of disbelief and desperation aren't enough for me to think a film good. The movie still needs other things, such as a plot or a purpose for being.
Broken Flowers lacks these things, choosing instead to blow the audience away with its smug cleverness. It's a pretentious exercise in minimalism, that came off to me as little more than an example of indie film-making 101. It's like director Jim Jarmusch (Coffee and Cigarettes, Stranger Than Paradise) grabbed a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Indie Film-Making: A Guide for the Rest of Us and followed it step-by-step. Quirky sardonic characters? Check. Long one-shots that stick around ten beats too long? Check. Painfully obvious visual metaphors? Check. Oh-so-clever literary archetypes in the place of actual characters? Check. One or two of these tricks would've been fine. They even seemed clever to me at first, until they all piled on top of one another and just felt hackneyed and tired. By the end, the whole thing felt to me like a whory cliché. When yet another long fade to black filled the screen, and nothing had been resolved, the mystery that drove the film nowhere near close to being solved, but we had just been treated to a showy 360 degree pan shot of Bill Murray in the middle of an empty street, I knew that would be the end of the movie. Because it's deeper that way, don't you know?
Some critics will say that it's the perfect ending for such a film, challenging the viewer to come up with their own ending. I thought it was perfect because it was the last thing on the indie movie list to check off. Otherwise, it felt like Jarmusch never bothered to figure out an ending, and just decided that this would do. The credits began to roll, and so did my eyes, as I simply thought "of course". I hated the ending, but at that point, I had already turned on the movie so it didn't really bother me. Which is too bad, because it started out with a lot of promise. It's a fun, if unbelievable, premise, with another solid performance by Murray. The highlight of the film is Murray's interaction with his friend and neighbour played by Jeffrey Wright, which provides enough enjoyable moments to keep me from hating the movie.
But not enough to make me like the movie.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)