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Broken Flowers (2005)

CRUMBLIES4 crumblies

Tipsy Tina was being dried out one idle weekend in the home. Well, I assume she was, because an all-new clarity of thought was bubbling out of her with nary a sign of the exhausting self-pity from the Tuesday before. Her favourite distillery had gone into receivership and she’d demanded Nurse Blotchy-Face destroy all the remaining bottles in her room.

And so it was that a shivery, shaky Tina and old Jack sat down to watch a story of a wildly successful but dislocated man, Bill Murray as Don Johnston, wandering through the emotional mess of his past. Broken Flowers. A girlfriend walks out on him, underlining his bemused vacuity on the way out, and another anonymously writes in a pink, type-written letter to say he has a teenage son who may be looking for him. For whole scenes, Murray nearly wakes up.

Okay. I’m sometimes a fan of the man, sometimes properly not. His inaccessible comedy – sophomoric and a with a hint of the bully – winds me up. His stillness, however, can be fascinating (we’ll get to St. Vincent another time). Newly DT Tina is drawn to him in a darker, rhythmic manner that makes me leave the sofa for the armchair. His allure to the ladies is…nope…not a clue.

Murray’s Johnston is presented as an old charmer. He flatters the neighbour’s wife, enjoys the sight of a flight attendant’s calves at the airport, and isn’t great at hiding the gaze he gives Chloë Sevigny‘s legs later in the film. She gets properly pissed off, which is much-needed given the trail of improbably beautiful women he seems to attract. These the broken flowers of his past…

Jeffrey Wright as his neighbour and blue-collar Sherlock Holmes gives a delightful performance, examining the pink letter from the mysterious ex and charging Johnston with an investigation of his past. He counterpoints the unmoving daze of Murray’s performance and gives him the energy to start the road-trip…

And here kicks in the life lesson. Don’t do this. Old Jack loved a few ladies in his youth (well, they started it), but left them well and truly behind when Mrs Jack blocked out the sun with her gorgeousness. I never knew the kind of emptiness Murray is experiencing here: that childless, aimless, financially-satisfied and pointless way of being that makes me pity the unloved. And Murray’s Johnston has been loved, make no mistake, then trampled through the flower-bed like a fool… Don’t be a fool, people…

He hits the road in search of the mother of the putative son and pitches up first at Sharon Stone‘s house. Her teenage daughter – Alexis Dziena as Lolita (yes) – is home and chirpily flirts like a saloon madam at the new gunslinger in town. And by flirts I mean walks through the room stark-bollock naked, scaring Murray into the yard where Stone gets home looking too beautiful for any normal man to be tolerated. It must have been the silence that drew her in.

A vignette of poverty and familial sadness plays out, with possible sex with the mother, but mostly anecdotes, and Murray moves on. The original pink letter was written on a typewriter: there is neither a son nor a typewriter here. You get the sense – for all the womanly waves they give him from door and window as he departs – that he has used up the moment of connection with their real lives and is off back to a travelling coma…

Up the wealth chain he goes to the childless and miserably bourgeois Frances Conroy as Dora. An excruciating meal of unsaid miseries follows with Christopher McDonald playing her bitterly childless husband Ron. Murray is shown a picture of Dora from long ago – when the broken flower was a flower child. When Ron leaves the table, Johnston and Dora agree it’s a picture he took. Sad, these unlived lives.

And on to another ex, this time with an angry assistant (Sevigny) and a whacko profession. Jessica Lange is Carmen, a once-passionate lawyer who now makes money from comedy dog owners as an animal communicator… It all goes a bit Prince Charles in the shallows of their scenes together, but there remains the subtext of abandoned relationships and what they do to our lives thereafter. Old Jack gets it but, really, these women are all lovely, smart, brave and awake to the moment. My favourite is Tilda Swinton who gives Murray a richly deserved smack in the face before her family finish the job. The lesson isn’t for them, of course, it’s for Murray’s Johnston to get slapped out of that destructive coma.

The end of the film – where he starts to see his potential son in the face of lots of young men – is as conclusive as it needs to be. This episodic whirl through vibrant people who could have made his meaningless success a better thing doesn’t end on the obvious, which rather makes Broken Flowers glide to a close. There’s no turkey for this redeemed Scrooge to buy a kid in the street.

Ultimately, the film succeeds on the charm of its episodes, the breadth of characterisation on display from the army of exes, Winston as an energiser, and Murray’s twitches, glances, ponderings and almost tranquil immobility. He is a gentle man, distant from reality and the lack of good his path through life has created.

If you are in the middle or near the end like old Jack, watch this film with an eye to living a better, more engaged life. It’ll charm you, I’m sure, but let its resonance be a change in you should needs be. I think newly Tubby Tina got the point. She’s dropped booze and moved on to chocolate.

Amazon Prime – you’ve probably already paid.

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