I can see why Broken Flowers is such a critical darling. Where reviewers get upset with most movies is when they know exactly what will happen next, which is not a problem for this particular film. It’s impossible to say where it’s going from minute to minute. However, I couldn’t get past the fact that the whole thing meanders. Sure, it meanders in a random fashion, but how is that a good thing?
There is a troubling syndrome out there plaguing the lesser directors that certainly plagues this film. I call it the normal stuff filming method and it’s high time we debunk it. Basically your filmmaker just films regular old stuff for up to five minutes at a time to “set the mood.” I’m talking about watching people sitting around listening to music or watching movies, seeing the mail delivered or driving a car. It doesn’t advance the plot, you don’t see anything interesting visually, and you learn nothing new. It’s just normal stuff. The fact is every film does this somewhat. Most do it for ninety seconds or so and that’s fine. Broken Flowers does it for about half the movie, it’s an issue.
If the Normal Stuff method is effective, if it takes off, well then I should just film myself in the shower singing Unchained Melody and call it a movie. No wait, that’s too much action. I should just film myself playing video games (only keep the camera on me!) and call it a movie. What the hell? I think some of these guys should be reminded that movies are an escape from reality, not a total immersion into it. Many, many minutes are thrown out the window during this film, lazy minutes, mood setting minutes, minutes where you can feel free to take a bathroom break, and I did.
Okay, enough bickering already. You’ve probably come for some plot points, maybe an uplifting comment or two. The plot is essentially Don Johnston (Bill Murray) receives an anonymous letter saying he’s got a nineteen year-old son who is looking for him. The letter is written by the supposed mother of the boy, but it is unsigned. Murray’s neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright), Don’s friend and Ethiopian neighbor, pokes and prods him into a voyage to figure out who the mother is, and whether or not he has a son. The film is very good when Wright is on; he sizzles off the screen with excellent comedic timing. Murray essentially plays the “put upon” straight man for most of the film. Also stunning, shocking and revealing is Alexis Dziena as Lolita, the daughter of the first potential mother (Sharon Stone) Murray visits. You’ll have to see her to believe it, trust me on that.
The crux of Bill Murray’s character can be summed up with an early piece of dialogue when Winston is trying to convince him to go on the journey. Murray comments “It’s probably just a jokeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ if notÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ whatever.” The man is depressed. The film is a depressed man’s look at the past and possibility. It’s a shell of a man meeting shells of women he once loved. Broken Flowers is currently being called a comedy but I’d say it’s closer in pedigree to Punch Drunk Love and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Both may have funny moments but they are closer to satire or drama in my book, not your rollicking Friday night good time. Visually it looks a lot like Sideways but that was a much more active film.
Should you see it? Probably. You may be frustrated at times with the film, or perhaps with the final act, but in the end the decent fifty minutes are as good as anything that’s come out this year even if the other fifty minutes are highly mediocre.