Saturday, December 31, 2005

Broken Flowers

Folks from my generation will always associate Bill Murray with Mr-stay-calm-know-it-all Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters, along with fellow comedians and collaborators Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis. Of late, he has been playing nonchalant characters, and probably would be better remembered for his role in Lost in Translation opposite Scarlett Johansson.

Maybe it's his style, that he projects he's sleepwalking through his roles, And this written-for-him role in Broken Flowers as Don Johnson, oops, I mean Don Johnston (with a T, there's a running joke about the Miami Vice fella), a Don Juan type character, seems to have cemented that opinion.

Don changes girlfriends like he changes his underwear. Not that he wants to, but his character makes him a difficult person to be with. We're led to believe that he has made enough from his computer business, and is in semi-retirement mode, doing nothing but watch television at the comfort of his home. His latest squeeze, played by Julie Delpy, has left him (gee what a cameo), and so did countless others before her.

But the pace picks up slightly (it moves terribly slow throughout the movie) when he receives a pink envelope, and inside a typewritten note, telling him that he has a son from an affair twenty years ago, and that son is now on a road trip looking for his father. However, the writer doesn't sign off, there is no return address, and the postmark is faded.

Putting it off as a prank, Don's best friend Winston (Jeffrey Wright) tries so hard to infuse interest and curiosity into Don (he's always putting on the deadpan facial expression), before Don finally, and reluctantly, accepts the itinerary given to him. Which is to revisit his old flames from around that time, to determine if they have in possession a typewriter, which probably was used to type that anonymous letter.

You might think that the premise is interesting, though nothing new, like Chris O'Donnell's The Bachelor, or John Cusack's High Fidelity, where the protagonist revisits his ex-lovers to discover various happenings and encounter various weird situations. Here, we have a load of talent playing Don's girlfriends from the past, like Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, and even Tilda Swinton (the White Witch from Narnia) with dark hair.

Winner of Cannes Film Festival 2005, be warned that this film is an acquired taste, and may not appeal or be enjoyed by many. Firstly, the pacing is slow. There are plenty of moments where the plot doesn't propel forward, and shots just stay where they are. Almost every transition from scene to scene utilizes the fade-to-black technique, and each scene is surprisingly short.

Perhaps these techniques fit the Don character like a glove, highlighting his short relationships with each girl, and his indifference to the outcome of each relation. We see that each girl has moved on with her life, some married, some having children, some already successful in their business, and all totally in contrast with Don's laid back character. It is during these scenes of character interaction that we get to experience some comedy, otherwise the other half of the time, we see the usual repetitive shots in airplanes or inside a Ford Taurus, as if to highlight the monotony of travelling alone.

Though it's rated NC-16 for some nudity here, the only nudity you get is from a character called Lolita (Alexis Dziena, who plays Sharon Stone's daughter), and that's only a butt-shot. The entire scene (which I think is full frontal) gets edited out, and along goes the dialogue with it, which somehow screws up the entire episode. There are nuances and implications towards the end of that particular visit which will make you go "Huh?". Pity. Given the crowd in today's screening, I don't think an M18 or R21 is gonna hurt box office takings (school's reopening as well). Now, with that bad edit, I'm sure many will steer clear.

The ending is open ended, and is totally up to your interpretation. My take would be that while one half of the mystery is solved (or perceived to be solved), the other half of the mystery is still out there. And by leaving it as such, it paves way for discussion, which always enrich the experience of watching a movie.

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