The latest film from writer-director Jim Jarmusch dribbles into my town this weekend. As a good little cinema devotee, I should head out to the local multiplex to take it in — especially since the film has earned strong reviews, notably for star Adam Driver — but I’ll admit that I probably won’t. Since I wrote the piece shared here, I’ve come around to some of Jarmusch’s earlier features, but he remains a distancing artist for me. I could go on, but that’s basically what I write about in this review from my former online home, so….
I suppose I should start by noting that I’ve never really warmed up to Jim Jarmusch. The few times I’ve taken a crack at one of his movies I’ve given up pretty quickly, put off by the deliberate pacing and fierce dramatic austerity. I hardly want the sort of hyperactive editing hackery perpetrated by everyone’s favorite cinematic antichrist, but nor do I want to watch the entire step-by-step journey a letter carrier makes from one house to the house next door.
Which brings us handily to the opening of Broken Flowers.
The latest from Jarmusch has largely drawn raves, including testimony to how accessible it is. I suppose, on the Jarmusch scale, that’s true. Just having widely-recognizable actors and a fairly linear plot accomplishes that. The plot in question follows Don Johnston (“with a t”), played by Bill Murray, as he tracks down several old lovers, provoked by a mysterious letter and a detective-obsessed neighbor. Murray’s character was something of a Don Juan, you see. And if you don’t see it — given the fact that the character is seemingly in the vestiges of a deep depression, or some sort of disease that induces extreme atrophy — you will be told it and visually cued to it several times in the first twenty minutes. Murray has had a hell of a run in recent years, convincingly transforming himself into a highly thoughtful, carefully subtle and deeply internal actor, but he makes very little impression here, in part because he has such a vaguely-defined character. You also get the sense that Jarmusch’s direction probably amounted to continually urging, “That was good, Bill, but let’s try it again, and this time give me less.”
The film seems to be about the emptiness of this character’s life and the ways in which this quest reveals his need for some interpersonal connection. And maybe even some sort of legacy. By the end, we’ve just barely cracked open his clamshell, and the journey there is so uneventfully episodic that it’s hard to say if this is really Jarmusch’s storytelling point. Maybe he just wants to make fun of people who have goofy jobs (like closet organizer), or illustrate the ways in which we all, no matter who we are, live lives tinged by loneliness.
Explaining all these reservations obscures the fact that there’s also a lot to like in the film. In particular, it’s filled with the sort of small, telling moments that most films completely bypass. I just wish those moments were serving a more compelling, more resonant overarching story.