Murray's sad charm blooms in 'Flowers'

Staff WriterAugust 19, 2005 

Bill Murray exudes regret as a middle-age everyman making the best of dreams unfulfilled and promises unmet.

No actor has grown more adept at playing men who slowly realize they have lived their lives in vain than Bill Murray.

In recent years, his characters have seemed like older-but-no-wiser versions of characters he played early in his career. Didn't his has-been oceanographer from "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" remind you of a grizzled, disillusioned Peter Venkman, his wiseacre apparition chaser from "Ghostbusters"?

"Broken Flowers" is the latest film that shows off Murray's ability to display middle-aged delusion and disappointment with just a dour expression. He's Don Johnston, a jogging suit-wearing bachelor who can barely cloak the emptiness in his life, especially after his latest lover (Julie Delpy) leaves him. Before he can let that sink in, an anonymous, pink, type-written letter from an old flame comes in the mail telling him that he has a 19-year-old son who may be looking for his dad.

With Don ready to chalk it up as a lost cause, his next-door neighbor, the detective novel-obsessed Winston (a dynamite Jeffrey Wright), urges him to hit the road and find out which past love sent him the letter. He even plans and maps out his trip for him.

But who could this mystery mom be? Could it be Laura (Sharon Stone), the widowed closet organizer with a nymphet daughter (Alexis Dziena), aptly named Lolita? Or Dora ("Six Feet Under" matriarch Frances Conroy), the real estate agent living a life of bland, WASPy bliss with her husband (Christopher McDonald)? Or Carmen (Jessica Lange), the former rat-racer making a nice living for herself as an "animal communicator"? Or Penny (Tilda Swinton), the backwoods biker chick who'd sooner punch him in the face than exchange pleasantries?

"Flowers" is the latest flick from indie-film icon Jim Jarmusch ("Stranger Than Paradise," "Ghost Dog"), and if you're not well-versed in his films, you're going to have quite a time wondering why a lot of stuff does and does not happen all at the same time. "Flowers" often seems like one, long awkward pause, as Jarmusch films the reunions between Don and his women the way they would probably turn out in real life -- uncomfortably. But it is a heavily, beautifully nuanced film, as Don looks for clues in hopes of discovering the letter's author. Along the way, he discovers other subtle tidbits that inform him, and the audience, of the lives his exes have lived post-breakup.

It's rare to find a film in which there's not a bad performance in the bunch, and it's certainly wonderful seeing Stone and Lange on the big screen again. But, once again, this is Murray's world, and he lets us know we're in the presence of greatness.

In one quietly devastating scene, Don ponders drinking a glass of champagne sitting on his living room coffee table. As he darts his right hand back-and-forth, it hits him that he has nothing going in his life to merit a celebratory glass of bubbly.

"Broken Flowers" may be a movie about a guy who has absolutely nothing to toast, but we should all toast Murray for giving audiences another reason to call him a master at what he does.

Staff writer Craig D. Lindsey can be reached at 829-4760 or clindsey@newsobserver.com.

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