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Jarmusch Features Murray in 'Broken Flowers'

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From a broken garden to a new movie called "Broken Flowers." It's from filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, who has a habit of keeping his characters moving. He's sent them slogging across Louisiana bayous in "Down by Law", sightseeing from Japan to Memphis in "Mystery Train," drifting from Hungary to Cleveland to Florida in "Stranger Than Paradise." Our critic Bob Mondello says that in "Broken Flowers" Jarmusch sends Bill Murray on an odyssey not just across America but also into the past.

BOB MONDELLO reporting:

The film opens with a pink envelope being placed in a mailbox and, in a series of static shots, follows it until it reaches the neighborhood of a modern Don Juan. As played by Bill Murray, this Don has had many a lover and never a wife. His latest girlfriend is leaving him just as the pink envelope arrives, and though he offers mild protests, he's clearly not upset. This is simply his lot in life, inconsequential affairs that don't lead anywhere. Except the letter tells him that one affair did lead somewhere, to a son who is now 19. There's no return address, no signature, no hints really. Don's inclined to let it pass, but his neighbor, played by Jeffrey Wright as a would-be suburban sleuth, asks for a list of old girlfriends and a couple of days later hands him an itinerary.

(Soundbite of "Broken Flowers")

Mr. BILL MURRAY: (As Don Johnston) Very impressive, Winston. I really don't know why you did all this. What am I supposed to do about it?

Mr. JEFFREY WRIGHT: (As Winston) Look, your whole trip, it's all planned, booked, reservations, rental cars, everything you need. All you have to do is give them a credit card.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Don) What are you talking about?

Mr. WRIGHT: (As Winston) You go visit them. You go to their houses. You see them. You bring flowers, pink flowers. You're just checking in.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Don) Just checking in?

Mr. WRIGHT: (As Winston) And I burned you a new CD, see? It's traveling music.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Don) That I'll take.

MONDELLO: If Don had anything better to do he'd probably do it, but he hops a plane and then a rental car and soon finds himself standing with a pink bouquet at a front door. He expects to see an old flame, Laura, but is instead greeted by a seductive youngster in a bathrobe who says her name is Lolita. When Laura comes home a bit later, it turns out she's a recent widow and Don is invited to stay for a candlelit with her and her daughter.

(Soundbite of "Broken Flowers")

Ms. SHARON STONE: (As Laura) I'm a professional closet organizer.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Don) Come on.

Ms. STONE: (As Laura) Well, I organize people's closets. I even color-coordinate them.

Ms. ALEXIS DZIENA: (As Lolita) Yeah, and they pay her for that. It's amazing.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Don) Hm.

Ms. STONE: (As Laura) Lolita, I said you could have a taste. Now, come on, that's enough of that.

Mr. MURRAY: (As Don) Lolita, interesting choice of name, Laura.

MONDELLO: Don ends up spending the night with Laura, who, as played by Sharon Stone, is the first of several old flames he seems to have left smoldering. Writer-director Jim Jarmusch employs a hesitant Frances Conroy, a forthright Jessica Lange and a virtually unrecognizable Tilda Swinton to make sure the others are as unlike one another as they could possibly be.

The film works its way unpredictably across an emotional landscape that is predictable. And although it's often clever, it's very dry, with Bill Murray giving a performance so completely affectless that it makes his subdued acting in "Lost in Translation" look like grand opera. "Broken Flowers" will not be a picture for all tastes. That's despite the fact that for a filmmaker as quirky as Jarmusch it practically qualifies as a swing-for-the-fences stab at commercial, accessible moviemaking. The director even moves the camera on occasion. But more than that, he's tapped into something moving, something heartfelt through a character who doesn't initially seem to have a heart. The ache of loneliness is everywhere in "Broken Flowers," accessible to anyone who's wondered about roads not taken. I'm Bob Mondello.

BLOCK: This is NPR, National Public Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.