Broken Flowers

An aging lothario (Bill Murray) receives an anonymous letter from a woman who claims that he had fathered her son twenty years earlier, and that the son would soon be looking for him. Reluctantly following the advice of his goodhearted but meddling Ethiopian neighbor (the always-welcome Jeffrey Wright), Don Johnston - Murray's character's name, a play on the "Don Juan" that he's been all his life - sets off on a cross-country tour to meet the four women (five, actually) he had been regularly sleeping with two decades earlier, in order to find out which of them wrote the letter.

Despite the high-concept setup, this is Jim Jarmusch we're talking about; anybody expecting an easy answer to Don's quest, or even an answer at all, is in for a disappointment. For Broken Flowers is on the one hand yet another of Jarmusch's seriocomic portraits of a decaying, unhappy America - the homes where Murray's exes live are intentionally generic, from white trash rural shacks to pre-fabricated clones - and is on the other hand a look at a man adrift in a world full of women whom he supposedly "understands" but clearly does not.

What I still can't figure out for myself is whether Broken Flowers is a misogynist film - and that's not a word I use often, or lightly. First of all, Jarmusch takes an all-star cast of some of the finest actresses around, then gives them little to do. (But then, few people do much of anything in most Jarmusch films.) And there are leering details that suggest a bafflement with women that borders on contempt. Just my opinion, of course.

As usual, Jarmusch's style is not for everybody. Fans of Murray who expect more of a comedy may lose patience with the film's glacial pace and flair for the anti-climactic. Fans of Jarmusch, on the other hand, may be surprised at his somewhat mainstream camerawork and editing. Though the irony is that Broken Flowers feels more like his earlier wistful films and less like his more recent violent dramas Ghost Dog and Dead Man.

While I am always surprised by the depth of Jarmusch's deceptively modest stories, and found much visual meaning in Broken Flowers' elegant shots, I became aware for the first time that, art house credibility aside, Jim Jarmusch is a guy's filmmaker. Most of his films center around men, and even while his latest is ostensibly about women, in the end it's just another story about a dude. But his film is full of interesting ideas and graceful moments - offered only the tiniest of clues, you can still imagine the sort of relationship Don had with each of the women he returns to see. And Murray turns in a humble, droll performance as an inscrutable nobody gifted with an animal magnetism that women somehow automatically respond to.