Sunday, August 28, 2005

Movie review: Broken Flowers

I saw the new Bill Murray film Broken Flowers this weekend. I have conflicted feelings about the movie, but overall I recommend it.

My conflicts begin over the movie's premise: a middle-aged man is called to reexamine his love life after years of remaining devotedly single. When I first heard the idea, my thought was, hasn't this been done before? Movies like About a Boy, Alfie, and High Fidelity come to mind. However, just because we've seen the plot before doesn't mean the movie cannot be good; after all, when it comes to love or romance, there are only so many stories. So I was willing to accept at least the premise of Broken Flowers.

However, minutes into the movie, after a girlfriend played by Julie Delpy broke up with him, I found it slightly implausible that this washed-up middle-aged joyless man with a wardrobe of jogging suits could attract women half his age. Unlike in Alfie, Murray's character, a former computer executive named Don Johnston, seemed to no longer find enthusiasm in short-lived relationships, but what would cause a young woman to invest any enthusiasm in Johnston?

All through the movie, I felt both the sense of a void that Johnston seems to be confronted with as he visits girlfriends he had from an era of his past, but I also felt there was a void in writer/director Jim Jarmusch's script. Johnston seems to be hollowed out, empty, by his inability or unwilligness to have established a meaningful romantic relationship through his life, but it's hard to feel totally invested in Johnston's story. Why should we feel strongly either way about someone who appears to have done this to himself?

Despite these reservations, Broken Flowers was an engaging movie and probably one of the better ones out there right now. The music in this movie is great, by the way. Any soundtrack that includes my favorite song by Marvin Gaye, "I Want You," plus a lot of what I believe was Ethiopian jazz, has to be good. Not only is "I Want You" a good song, but it is used in one of my favorite scenes in the movie: Murray sits behind a glass of champagne that is slowly bubbling down as Gaye's song plays in the background; its sensuality emphasizes even more Johnston's contrasting lack of passion.

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