One day, while watching his latest girlfriend (Julie Delpy) leave him, perpetual bachelor Don Johnston (Bill Murray) finds an anonymous pink letter in his mail explaining that he fathered a son 20 years ago, and the kid is coming to look for him. After handing the letter over to his detective-novel-loving best friend, Winston (Jeffrey Wright), Don is ready to ignore the situation and wallow in his loneliness. However, with Winston's carefully planned itinerary, mix CDs, and insistence, Don crosses the country looking up old girlfriends (including Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, and Tilda Swinton) -- some hostile, some not -- to look for the letter's author.
After taking an aesthetic spring break with his uneven aside of shorts, "Coffee and Cigarettes," Jim Jarmusch returns to feature-length filmmaking with his shrewd comedy "Broken Flowers" (IMDb listing). It's wonderful to see the idiosyncratic filmmaker back in the saddle again.
Written with Bill Murray in mind, Jarmusch uses the actor sparingly but effectively in this odd meditation on personal inventory. This is Murray's third mopey-bastard role in a row, completing a trilogy of brilliant performances that have showcased this comedy icon in ways no one dared attempt before. "Flowers" doesn't quite beg the emotions that "Lost in Translation" or "The Life Aquatic" did. Instead, Jarmusch wants Murray's Don to be a silent witness to his misspent life, almost unable to fundamentally communicate due to shock and guilt. Murray is typically miraculous here, quiet yet delicately expressive, and surrounded by an impressive collection of leading ladies to play off of. Jarmusch may not ask the world of Murray performance-wise, but his minimal use of the actor is terrific.
The rest of "Flowers" rises up to Murray's performance level, but in traditional Jarmusch laid-back ways. While the plot features a reservoir of dramatic urgency, "Flowers" never succumbs to hysteria. It trucks along evenly, maintaining a hipster cool speed, with stops for big laughs on Don's journey. One highlight features Don encountering the sexually charged teen daughter (named, of course, Lolita) of one of his past lovers. I also greatly enjoyed the character of Winston, and his enthusiasm for Don's mysterious journey, which Don doesn't share. Wonderfully played by character actor Wright, the performance adds just the right flavor of light, restrained comedy "Flowers" needs at the opening to set the mood of the film.
"Broken Flowers" is a nice return to form for Jarmusch. His quirky, casual style enlivens the material agreeably, and often hilariously, making for one of his best films to date.
Filmfodder Grade: A-