It’s Bill Murray’s good fortune that, relatively late in life, with his days as a Hollywood cash-cow far behind him, he’s been championed by a series of directors who have exploited his crumpled charisma and minimalist underplaying to brilliant effect. First Wes Anderson gifted him the role of a lifetime in Rushmore and then gave him another in The Life Aquatic. Then we had Sofia Coppola, who saw in Murray a pathos ideal for Lost In Translation’s over-the-hill romantic. And now Jim Jarmusch hands him a role that fits his deadpan drollness so snugly you can’t imagine any other actor doing it justice.
Broken Flowers is actually Murray and Jarmusch’s second collaboration; the actor had previously popped up in a Coffee & Cigarettes segment, and his latest movie has a similarly episodic quality. Where Flowers improves on Cigarettes is that the isolated parts have a cumulative effect, deepening our appreciation of its unlikely Don Juan and his impassive response to the world.
Murray may be the star, but the star turns are supplied by the actresses playing his old flames. At first glance it’s stretching credibility that Don would have much in common with Sharon Stone’s blowsy widow, Frances Conroy’s frosty estate agent, Jessica Lange’s lesbian hippy and Tilda Swinton’s trailer-trash vamp. But, just as 8 1/2’s females reflected differing aspects of Marcello Mastroianni’s personality, so Don’s blanks are filled by their reactions to him. The only shame is how little time they’re given to shine, with Swinton being particularly ill-served.
Subtle, elegant and deliciously witty, Broken Flowers slightly suffers from a reluctance to resolve its central mystery – as enjoyable as the journey is, you can’t help thinking Don winds up in much the same place he was at the beginning. Or does he? The answer lies in Murray’s soulful, doleful features, which manage to be both endlessly expressive and inscrutable.