I have not seen a Jim Jarmusch film since the magnificent Dead Man. I figured it best to stop there, as I doubted that he would ever do better. I liked his earlier works but going back to them I decided that they either aged poorly or that I was an idiot when I first saw Down by Law.
To be sure, Jarmusch is not the savior of cinema, but he has managed some interesting efforts. Stranger Than Paradise might have worked better as the short film he originally made, as the last half is an exercise in tedium. Similarly, Down By Law starts off with a bang and ends with a whimper. This has always been the case with his work. Jarmusch seems to be cinematic speak for “uneven”.
As I said, not having seen the past two films, Broken Flowers might be the best movie Jarmusch has made since Dead Man. Something tells me I don’t have to see Coffee and Cigarettes. I saw the clip with Tom Waits and Iggy Pop and that was good enough for me. Still, as good as Broken Flowers is, it suffers from that same unevenness that plagues his other films.
Bill Murray is great, as always, doing the best with what he has. Much the way The Life Aquatic would have been unwatchable without Bill at the helm, Broken Flowers would not be so interesting were anyone else in the lead role. Murray’s eyes express pathos at every turn and as he goes from one awkward situation to the next (each getting worse) that makes us feel as though we are traveling with him down into some strange Americana hell.
His ex-girlfriends range from tragic (Sharon Stone as a widow and mother of the most precocious teen ever; Francis Conroy as a wife and co-seller of prefab homes) to strange (Jessica Lange as an “animal communicator”) to the downright belligerent (the normally ethereal Tilda Swinton in black wig and white trash gear) and in them all we see evidence of destroyed youth and crumbled ambition. These women are, of course, not who they once were, and the journey leads Murray to the conclusion that “the past is the past”. Not such heady stuff, but we assume that this quiet retiree is capable of only minor profundities.
This is essentially a mystery and a road film done the Jarmusch way, which is occasionally interesting but ultimately feels slight. Jarmusch has claimed that it is not within him to make a “normal” film. We need more people like that behind the camera, I just hope that they have something more to say. Considering the powerful image that is Dead Man, and the three parts of Night on Earth that are worth seeing, Jarmusch will always hold a claim as an important American filmmaker. Broken Flowers does little to ruin that claim, but little to strengthen it either.