Bill Murray, under the direction of Jim Jarmusch, declares the beginning of the end of the summer season of blockbusters by delivering August's first high-profile American art film: Broken Flowers. It's time, at last, to bring our focus back to films made for grownups … one that offers us three-dimensional human beings whose stories require us to pay attention and think things through.
Don't misunderstand—the movie is fun. Jarmusch will jolt you with big laughs, the sort that have earned him a loyal following through previous works like Stranger Than Paradise, Down by Law, and, most recently, Coffee and Cigarettes.
And while a couple of nude scenes in Broken Flowers warrant the R-rating, the story is all about the deep sadness, regrets, and scars of a man who has neglected "family values."
Don Johnston (Murray) made his money "in computers," and yet money hasn't bought him true love or joy. We're given hints of his younger self—the nickname "Don Juan" follows him around more like a curse than an honor. His dalliances with various lovers ended in disappointment. When we meet him, his latest girlfriend Sherry (Julie Delpy) is, in fact, leaving. With Don's face in profile filling the right side of the screen, we see Sherry standing with her suitcase in the entryway, as though inside a thought bubble—an echo of so many past departures. He's left staring despondently past handsome furniture into oblivion, sullenly resigned to another failure.
Enter Winston (Jeffrey Wright), Don's meddling neighbor. Winston's a family man who has discovered "the Net" and is indulging his interest in detective work. Another director might have cast Luis Guzman in the role, and that would have worked. But Wright, a powerfully versatile actor who made strong impressions as a violent gangster in the re-make of Shaft and as the traumatized war veteran in the re-make of The Manchurian Candidate, plays Winston with note-perfect humor and an Ethiopian accent. Winston's just dying for a mystery to solve, and Don unwittingly serves one up.
A pink envelope brings a shock to Don's system: he's apparently the father of an eighteen-year-old son. The letter isn't signed. Don, being Don, responds by bravely digging another furrow across his brow. But Winston's enthusiastic—near-hysterical—response involves a different kind of digging. Before Don can effectively protest, Winston gathers the tools necessary to solve the mystery.
Here, you're likely to share Jarmusch's tangible reluctance to tear Don away from Winston. Their casual chemistry is the film's richest resource of humor and nerves. But the show must go on, and so we're off on the Odyssey of Don: a trip down memory lane, the major points on the map being the current locations of his lost loves. Those failures are played by Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, and Tilda Swinton.
Stone, making up for her embarrassing turn in Catwoman, is at once funny and painfully sad as Laura, a shallow but free-spirited widow and the mother of a dangerously ditzy teen. Appropriately named Lolita (Alexis Dziena), the daughter's eagerness to full-frontally flaunt her adolescent comeliness for Don is the primary reason for the film's rating.