Jim Jarmusch, Broken Flowers
When his career is written up in the future, this film will be part of the trinity of late-bloom that mark Bill Murray (ok, one could argue more than three films constitute Bill’s resurgence, or argue which films outweigh minor from major in such a grouping (though Wes Anderson must feature), and one could also argue convincingly that it’s not Bill’s late style (all drab faces and demure dryness) that finally upped his appeal, or the roles becoming available, but that Bill’s style has always stayed the same and it’s the directors (and the market) who’ve come around to him again. He’s a great comedic actor who’s been given serious work again, who never strays far from serious humour (of the face particularly). I remember him as a tall force with great access to chaotic energy on a Letterman appearance; I remember the screwball nuts of his 80s roles. He’s still someone who has to leave America for a spell occasionally, which I believe humanises him. The difference now is that he’s older, but still bewildered and wired into manic potential under a thinning dome and a refined array of tics and moods. Now it’s got extra cachet and potentially an Oscar.
Now, match that with the White Mane of Independent Cinema. And what you get is another road movie. Whoulda thunkit? I was woried that Jarmusch would exploit that Late Murray Demeanor to the full, (Lost in Translation in America, but with more smoking) but in the end he’s quite calm and understated. Murray himself doesn’t even play it up. He spends most of the first 15 minutes of film sitting down looking at a TV. He seems lost or mired, surrounded by 80s furniture. He’s a testament of some form of (late) midlife crisis or ennui of maturity; a craggy old Don Juan (a persistent gag) who knows not himself but enjoys a comfortable affinity with (meeting) women. And before you know it he’s pushed (reluctantly) into a road trip to find a (potentially) (illegitimate) son by an (unsourced) previous fling. And what you get is not so much an essay into mid-life vacuity or the causality of lost opportunity (say, by strong character direction), but a sketch-book of American social life in differing degrees of surface, low-brow and small town. So the comedy is located in two places: Bill’s face and the mores of American society as he crosses and dines with them. It’s not a film about disconnectedness or unfulfilment or knowing what you want, or social distance and empty patterns of meaning, but simply nothing other than a road movie with a mild consistency of trope and persistence (and a peculiar fondness for women). Not stylised, not driven, and definitely difficult to locate in terms of inner subjectivity (for it has none). The great metaphor of the road (the journey, the quest) doesn’t even stick. There’s a lead that proves fruitless, a final tease of potential which turns into an admission of failure, and the credits roll!
OK, so there are great moments of facial comedy or daft Americana and reference, and I sniggered with genuine glee at times, but there could have been so, so much more to this film. I think ultimately it didn’t do justice to Bill’s unique status as American actor nor really stood up as a Jarmusch film. But then again the Academy always rewards conservative bets.