Saturday, August 20, 2005

Broken Flowers

I may never be able to see Bill Murray without a fleeting thought of Ghostbusters or What About Bob?, but he is becoming one of the great artists acting in films right now. And what he does in Broken Flowers is nothing short of amazing.

Murray plays Don, a retired computer entrepreneur, who pretty much lives alone, except for the comings and goings of his string of girlfriends. He gets a letter from an old flame, telling him that he has a son and that the son is coming to look for him. The letter has no return address, it isn't signed, and the postmark is so faint that it can't be read. So there's no way of knowing who sent the letter. With the help of his neighbor, Don reluctantly goes on a trip to visit the likely candidates and try and figure out which of them sent the letter. Or if it's all just a big hoax.

I didn't really care much for the film itself. It was sometimes painfully slow-moving and the ending was just ... it just ended without finishing. But as a playground for actors, it was really remarkable. Murray has found that thing that makes great actors great - the ability to be still. At times during the movie I was reminded of David Letterman. How he doesn't have to do anything. He can just sit there until you laugh. Murray has the same kind of gift. He can just sit there, apparently not moving a muscle, and convey something. And a good bit of what makes the movie intriguing is just watching his character doing the most mundane things - watching TV, driving a car, sleeping on an airplane, etc.

Jeffrey Wright, who plays Don's neighbor Winston, should be in every movie. He is so incredibly versatile, and unrecognizable from role to role. Here, he plays an Ethiopian working father, who spends his spare time solving mysteries and fiddling around on the internet. His relationship with Don is probably the best thing about the film.

The ladies who play Don's exes - Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, and Tilda Swinton - are all great in the small parts they play. I loved how the movie doesn't ever go the obvious route with Don's visits to these ladies. A lesser movie would include a heartfelt scene with each of the ladies to explain why things didn't work out between them and Don. And all of them would probably add up to some sort of life lesson for Don. That's not the case here. He just spends a bit of time with them - at least long enough to ascertain whether they might have sent the letter - and moves on.

The movie opens with Don's current girlfriend, Sherry - played by Julie Delpy - leaving him, accusing him of being emotionally unavailable ("I'm like your mistress, only you're not married."). At the end of the film, I felt a lot like Sherry. I'd spent all this time with him, and I still didn't know him. That was quite unsatisfying to me, but the performances definitely made it worth seeing.