Broken Flowers (2005)
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Bill Murray, Julie Delpy, Jeffrey Wright
Broken Flowers is Jim Jarmusch’s 2005 comedy/drama about Don Johnston, an over-the-hill “Don Juan” who receives an anonymous letter in the mail from an ex-flame, explaining to him that he has a son who may be searching for his father, a.k.a. himself. Under the coaxing of his best friend Winston, also his neighbor and wannabe super sleuth, Don journeys cross-country to visit five ex-girlfriends that could’ve been responsible for the letter. What ensues is an intriguing, albeit slightly offbeat voyage through many a different locale for the aging lothario.
Many have praised this film for Jarmusch’s subtle, sort of brilliant minimalist approach to storytelling, and I agree with these opinions wholeheartedly. However, when it comes to certain details, I do feel a bit of complexity would’ve most definitely come in handy, especially in terms of the film’s ending. To elaborate, Jarmusch’s ending, while appropriate on the surface, just feels a tad out of place and altogether rushed given the pretty fantastic pacing of the rest of the film. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say that the ending as a whole proved to be the most bewildering part of Broken Flowers, and possibly the only one at that given its simplicity, but I can appreciate what the writer/director was trying to achieve in (almost) giving Don’s character some much deserved closure.
Bill Murray’s portrayal of Don is superb and excellently compliments Jarmusch’s method of storytelling, showing little to no emotion when you’d most expect it from him, all whilst procuring a mild chuckle here and there from the viewer. It’s with this deadpan performance that we’re allowed a clearer view of each ex-girlfriend in the sense of seeing how different each one truly is from the next, adding an aura of ambiguity to the film that keeps us as viewers from successfully determining who the mother is. Furthermore, these female characters are portrayed terrifically and exhibit some pretty great chemistry with Murray’s Don, neither person garnering too much attention during each encounter, with the exception of Swinton’s performance and the awkwardness presented within the events that play out between her and the protagonist. This aside, Broken Flowers is without a doubt a refreshingly original piece of filmmaking showcasing excellent efforts across the board, some above par direction, and a terrific script that aids in providing us with an excellent blend of comedy, drama, and a touch of mystery.
Paranoid Park (2008)
Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Gabe Nevins, Taylor Momsen, Dan Liu
The second of Van Sant’s forays into the lives of seemingly everyday teenagers that I’ve seen, Paranoid Park tells the tale of a young skateboarder, Alex, and the guilt that consumes him after he finds himself responsible for the accidental death of a security guard. Given this type of subject matter, I thought it’d be tough to sympathize with the efforts of an all-amateur cast, but in the long run, I found it to be the opposite, seeing as how Nevins’ character can most likely correspond with any run-of-the-mill skateboarding teen you might bump into at your very own high school. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that the newcomer brings an excellent amount of emotion to the table and captures the essence of his character brilliantly, including the mental deterioration he begins to experience as he tries to cope with growing feelings of anxiety and guilt, despite being faced with constant girl trouble and his parents’ impending divorce.
The rest of the cast is also just fine, exhibiting some very believable interaction between one another that further strengthens the impact Alex’s run-in with the security guard has on the viewer, myself included. I also enjoyed the skateboarding sequences taken inside Paranoid Park (meant in reference to the skateboard park Alex and his friends venture to), thrown in to sort of help the film’s pacing in between moments of intense conflict. Van Sant’s creative touch also manages to put an emphasis on the film’s primary focus, adolescence, by keeping all adults excluding the detective who interrogates Alex and his friends as just out-of-focus, shapeless masses in the background. However, I can’t really agree with his mediocre portrayal of the female characters, seeing as how their involvement, although key in dealing with the film’s more interesting plot points, isn’t really emphasized to the fullest extent when it most definitely should be.
The most appealing aspect of Paranoid Park I found to be the letter Alex seems to be writing to himself at the start of the film, outlining the events that took place leading up to and after the occurrence in the train yard, allowing for him to narrate his own story and tell it like it really is, adding to the aura of authenticity surrounding said events. It also comes as a pleasant surprise when Alex’s reasoning behind writing the letter begins to surface towards the latter end of the film, providing us with a somewhat rushed, albeit very appropriate conclusion, proving to me that Gus Van Sant’s adaptation of Blake Nelson’s novel is the real deal, with the exception of a few less than favorable moments.