BROKEN FLOWERS written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, with Bill Murray, Sharon Stone, Julie Delpy, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton and Chloë Sevigny. 107 minutes. An Odeon release. Opens Friday (August 5). For venues and times, see Movies, page 91. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Don (Bill Murray) goes looking for a son he never knew he had, which means a road trip to track down his ex-lovers. He lands at Sharon Stone's trashy home, but her teenage daughter walks out to greet him. She's stark naked and talking on the phone. She's a naked teenage girl and her name is Lolita (Alexis Dziena). She looks at him like, "What?"
The moment between her appearance and Murray's reaction is the sum of this movie. Its sense of humour, narrative style and gender politics are all in there.
After Rushmore and Lost In Translation, Murray's six levels of deadpan are no longer a surprise. And Jim Jarmusch has always drawn humour, meaning and cool from radical understatement. But the collision - if that's the right word - of Jarmusch and Murray produces a new minimum in human response. Broken Flowers works as a kind of behavioural experiment, submitting a particularly chilly fish to stronger and stronger stimuli to determine just when it twitches.
The film opens with Don's current girlfriend (Julie Delpy) storming out on him. No reaction. He finds out he might have a son. Nothing. His armchair detective neighbour (Jeffrey Wright) puts together an itinerary of women to help find his son's mother. Mild response. He gives him a CD of wicked Ethiopian jazz-soul for the road. This he seems to like.
Murray plays well off emotional women, and Jarmusch gives him several. After Sharon Stone comes Frances Conroy as a tightly wired real estate agent who cracks on one sore point, Jessica Lange as an "animal communicator" and Tilda Swinton as a furious biker. Chloë Sevigny also gets a scene as Lange's secretary and protector.
But really it boils down to meeting Lolita. This is a movie about a closed-off man facing female dissent, allure and unpredictability. What do you do when confronted by the womanness of woman? Where do you look?
As a director, Jarmusch is more conscious than most. There are no accidents in his films, so it must be with purpose that he dedicated Broken Flowers to Jean Eustache, the French filmmaker who developed a cult reputation for directing The Mother And The Whore in 1973, then committing suicide in 1981. There are many reasons to dedicate this film to Eustache - Jean-Pierre Léaud is a masterpiece of male self-absorption in The Mother And The Whore, for instance. Aged 30 years and medicated, he might look like Bill Murray's Don.
But probably the closest link to Broken Flowers is its insistence on withholding judgment. Eustache could film a sex scene and a pig's killing with the same curious, neutral eye. It's that dispassionate perspective that Jarmusch brings to Bill Murray.
But Murray is already so deadpan that the effect is like watching a surveillance camera trained on a white wall. The fish never twitches. Six great women - plus Jeffrey Wright - act up a storm around him, to little effect. The end is sublime in the way Jarmusch does best, but the road to that end is straight and flat, and it leaves Lolita stranded by the wayside.