Broken Flowers: A Film Full of Broken Expectations
One of the promotional posters for the film
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Netflix enjoys giving me recommendations. When a recommendation pops up, it comes up with the subtitle that says, "Based on your interest in (blank.)" In this case, Broken Flowers popped up based on my interest in American Beauty. I thought, "Great! American Beauty is one of the best movies of all time. Time to add another favorite to the list!" What I didn't take into account is that Netflix, despite all the complicated algorithms, is usually wrong.
Sure, I didn't hate the movie, and it had some attributes in common with American Beauty, but it didn't have the same impact, as many parts of the film felt forced and other parts fell flat altogether. Instead of another brilliant dip into existentialism, we have a story that is forgettable and, in a lot of ways, downright dull.
An aging Don Juan goes on a journey
Don Johnston (Bill Murray) receives an anonymous letter from someone who appears to be an ex-lover notifying him that he has a son who is looking for him. His meddling neighbor, Winston (Jeffrey Wright) enjoys reading mystery novels and encourages Don to go and visit all the women he dated in order to "solve the mystery." Don meets up with four women, each experience odder and more strenuous than the last.
First, he meets up with widow Laura (Sharon Stone) and her flirtatious, aptly named teenage daughter, Lolita (Alexis Dziena.) After spending the evening and sleeping with Laura, he travels to meet Dora (Frances Conroy.) While Dora used to be a whimsical flower child, she is now a quiet and reserved realtor alongside her awful, yuppie husband (Christopher McDonald.) Next up is Carmen (Jessica Lange) who works as an animal communicator. She receives Don but briefly and coldly before sending him on his way. Finally, there's Penny (Tilda Swinton) who is angry at Don. When he asks if she has a son, she becomes furious and storms into the house. Penny's biker partner and his friend beat Don unconscious.
He returns without an answer to his question and buys a sandwich for a young man who he suspects might think that Don is his father. The young man gets agitated and flees. Don sees a different young man riding in the passenger's seat of a car, a man who bears a strong resemblance to him.
What's the mystery?
I understand the point of Don's journey isn't really to find out who sent the letter; I get that the whole idea is about self-discovery and self-realization and pursuing self-actualization (lots of "selfs.") But, although we, the audience, is aware of this, the characters are not. Winston isn't trying to send Don out to learn more about himself, and Don certainly doesn't agree to the journey for that reason. To them, the objective is to discover who sent the letter, a question that could be answered with just a simple phone call. And, when Don visits his four ex-girlfriends, he never asks them if they sent the letter. Actually, if one of them had sent it, he would know almost immediately, because she'd probably say, "You're here about the letter, aren't you?"
Perhaps I am being too picky, but this is a pretty flimsy reason to explain taking a cross country trip to dig up unresolved issues. Although I try to create detailed explications in my head, everything just seems like a stretch. Perhaps Don is actually looking to reconnect with one of his old flames and create a life with her? But, again, why not just pick up the phone? In a world that's all about simplicity and convenience, I can't justify why a middle-aged man, even a wealthy middle-aged man, would travel miles and miles just to say "hey" to his lost loves. I mean, traveling stresses me out, but maybe that's just me.
Don looks on as Sherry packs up and leaves him
Some symbolism is just too forced
The dynamic that Winston and Don have is fun and full of playful banter. However, I resent the fact that whatever party accountable (screenwriter, director, whatever) felt the need to make Winston such an obvious negative of Don. Don is wealthy while Winston works multiple jobs just to scrape by. Don is single and, more or less, childless while Winston is married with several small children. Don is white, and Winston is black. Don is quiet and static, but Winston is gregarious and full of energy. The juxtaposition between the too is painfully forced, and it makes me feel like the whole cast and crew is operating under the assumption that the whole audience is stupid.
Making everything pink is acceptable, though. While I originally thought it was too forced to make everything relevant and irrelevant pink, I decided that the forced aspect of it was kind of the point. Because Don is actively searching for an answer, he notices everything that is pink and reads into it unnecessarily. He tries to create meaning for himself when there actually is no meaning at all, merely chance and coincidence. The point I am trying to make is that the reappearance of pink objects reveals something about Don's psyche that we might not pick up any other way. But we don't need Don set beside his antithesis in order to understand fundamental aspects of his personality. That's just too much.
View one of the trailers
Bill Murray's portrayal irks me
While Bill Murray's flat, reflective acting works perfectly in other films, such as Lost in Translation, I just can't get behind it here. Lost in Translation is visually stunning, and the story is carried primarily by its poignant script. Broken Flowers has none of that. It's not memorable visually, and the writing is just so-so. That means that there is more pressure on our protagonist to propel the plot forward and to keep the audience interested which is impossible with such a plodding, reluctant character. Murray isn't only to blame, though. With the exception of Jessica Lange, who is always magnificent, none of the characters' personal vignettes moved me in the least. Perhaps it's nearly impossible to bring life to characters that are written in such a boring manner.
Which of these Bill Murray films is your favorite?
Bill Murray's expression doesn't change throughout the whole movie
Purchase the film on amazon
In the end, I just didn't care
Perhaps I went into the whole thing with the wrong mentality. I started watching the movie under the assumption that it was going to fabulous, that it was going to be everything American Beauty was and more. It's not a bad movie, by any means. Far from it. But it's certainly not a great movie like I was expecting, and I didn't have any strong feelings about the ending of the film, either. I didn't care if Don ever met his son (if he had one), if he ever found out who sent the letter, if Sherry ever came back, anything. I didn't care if the man he sees in the car is his son or if the ending just signifies that Don will forever look at every 20-year-old as if he is his son. It just didn't matter to me, and I think that's one of the main issues I had with the movie.
I'd give it about a 6 out of 10.