Broken Flowers is a failed effort to recapture the magic of Lost in Translation. Like Sofia Coppola, writer/ director Jim Jarmusch created Flowers’ main character for Bill Murray and with minimal dialogue, but in this case the absence of conversation falls flat and keeps stalling the flow.
Though not without potential, the story had some glaring snags. Don Johnston (Murray) is a prosperous bachelor retiree who is presumably repressed and/or depressed, but comes off being personality free. And whenever he introduces himself, people think he’s actor Don Johnson, a joke that never takes off. When the story opens, Don’s girlfriend is leaving him, as conveyed by the suitcase and the clichéd farewell exchange (“What do you want?” “I don’t know what I want”). Don’s day slides downhill from there. He gets an unsigned letter from an unidentified girlfriend from the past, informing him that he is the father of a 19-year-old son who is on a road trip possibly searching for his dad. The anonymity was a hard plot point to swallow but I hung my hope on the story being rescued.
Winston (Jeffrey Wright), Don’s friend and neighbor with a penchant for solving mysteries, makes Don give him names of lovers from 20 years ago. Winston tracks them down online, and then books a series of four flights, motels, and rental cars for Don’s solo adventure. We can’t help but wonder why Winston didn’t just give Don the phone numbers and save him the journey. The only answer is that there would be no movie—not exactly the hook we were hoping for.
While I can’t be certain, I think the film tried to convey some upbeat philosophy about life’s unlimited choices in the present. But what we really learn is that there are two kinds of cinematic silence—one exploding with unspoken words and the other imploding with nothing to say. Sadly, this film is endowed with the second kind, so maybe it’s not just the flowers that are broken.