The Adventures of Bill Murray, Part 3

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The Adventures of Bill Murray, Part 3


Bill Murray is a very good actor, but he only has one character: Bill Murray. That makes his recent starring films seem like books in a series ―although the stories are entirely different, they’re all about the same guy. “Lost in Translation” might as well be “Bill Goes to Tokyo.” “The Life Aquatic,” “Bill Goes Under the Sea.”
Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, “Broken Flowers,” is “Bill Hits the Road.” Presumably something has happened to Bill after the relatively happy ending of “Life Aquatic” to put him back in his funk again. He’s sitting around the house moping over his departed girlfriend when a pink letter arrives with an illegible postmark, no return address, and no signature. The letter informs Bill that the son he never knew he had has run away from home looking for his father. The only question is, which of Bill’s five girlfriends from that time sent the letter?
Bill’s nosy neighbor and aspiring amateur detective Winston arranges for Bill to go on a long road trip to the current homes of the four surviving women to investigate. He tells Bill to look out for a pink typewriter ― the ink on the typewritten note was red ― and bring pink flowers. Winston shoves Bill on a plane and his odyssey begins.
We meet the women in order from most to least pleasant. Widow Laura (Sharon Stone) is imprinting her promiscuity on her daughter. Former hippy Dora (Frances Conroy) is stuck in an antiseptic, childless marriage to a realtor. Carmen (Jessica Lange) gave up her law career to become an animal psychic. Penny (Tilda Swinton) lives in a dirty hole in rural America where her tooth-deficient boyfriends work Bill over and leave him in a field. Bill ends his quest at the grave of the last girl, who died in a car accident.
“Broken Flowers” has a simple plot and is not particularly dramatic. In fact, one might call it the aftermath of drama. All the events of this man’s life: his days as a Don Juan (Bill’s character in this movie is named Don Johnston), as a computer businessman (we never hear what kind) and as a socially responsive human being are apparently over. The lives of the women he visits are also scattered with emotional wreckage.
Watching Bill Murray and the women play out their awkward reunions is a nice opportunity to watch good acting on a well-set stage (particularly in the case of Lange). Like a lethargic Russian novel, Jarmusch’s direction of rather actionless scenes is often more interesting than it would have been if the story were full of twists and possibilities.
But even for an innovative director like Jarmusch there’s little room for a new spin on Bill. Though the tone is different and the character even more disaffected, the Bill of “Broken Flowers” is still mulling over old girlfriends and his lack of children, something he’s been doing since “Ghostbusters.” It’s past time for this character to fade away.
Perhaps when people stop making him take part in plots and interact with other characters ― something that clearly irritates him ― fictional Bill the movie character will finally be able to lie on his couch in front of the TV, thinking crotchety thoughts about old girlfriends in peace. A perfect retirement.

Broken Flowers
Comedy / English
106 min.
Opens Thursday

by Ben Applegate
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