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Broken Flowers

I don’t know if this is true, but there’s legends that Chevy Chase and Bill Murray are some kind of arch enemies. Ever since Chevy left Saturday Night Live and was replaced by Bill, there’s been some kinda bad blood between these boys. I don’t think it’s ever come to a duel, or even a wrestling bout, but you know. Probaly gave each other dirty looks or something.

If that’s true Chevy Chase must be having a shit fit these days cause Bill Murray is the only one of any of those guys that figured out how to still have a career with integrity. I guess there aren’t too many guys left from that era of comedy, and I’m not sure if Chase even counts because I can’t remember the last time he made a movie. But let’s use Steve Martin as a symbol. That’s what you’re supposed to do now, you’re supposed to make shitty studio comedies with no style or imagination that nobody will ever remember. You’re supposed to be considered funny on the basis of distant memories. Not current reality.

Broken FlowersWell ever since that movie RUSHMORE you gotta figure Bill Murray doesn’t need the studios anymore. Now he’s the muse to all the best independent directors. Instead of playing a wacky old white guy doing hip hop slang or some silly shit like that, he makes movies that are mostly about the sad, tired look in his eyes. Jim Jarmusch (who I love because he directed GHOST DOG and looks like Lee Marvin) wrote BROKEN FLOWERS just for Bill Murray. I guess that means he wanted to make a movie about Bill Murray sitting around thinking about shit and being sad.

What I’m trying to say is, if you are one of those people who thought LOST IN TRANSLATION was boring and overrated, or if you even thought about watching BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE, then don’t ever watch this movie. But if you like Jim Jarmusch then quit fuckin around and go see it.

The premise almost could be a studio comedy. Bill plays Don Johnston, an aging ladies man whose young girlfriend walks out on him and on the same day he gets an anonymous note saying that he has a son who is coming looking for him. His Ethiopian neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright, one of those individuals who is always great) is kind of a wannabe detective, so he convinces Don to write him up a list of every former girlfriend who fits the clues given in the letter. Then he plans out a trip so Don can go visit each one of the girlfriends and figure out which one he has a son with. And dry, understated hilarity ensues.

This is a Jim Jarmusch movie all the way so don’t expect obvious laughs or a straight answer. It’s about the journey, man. There’s three different scenes in this movie where the poor bastard has to knock on the door of a strange house, not knowing for sure who’s gonna answer or how they’re gonna react. What’s he supposed to say, “Hi, I’m your wife’s boyfriend from 20 years ago, do you happen to have a son that’s not yours?” And then you experience his awkward moments with these old girlfriends, not really knowing what to say, maybe feeling like an asshole. It definitely makes you think about people you used to know, how things change, what kinds of things don’t matter anymore years later, what kind of a bond you have just because you used to know each other, a long time ago. So yeah, teens should love it.

Like Ghost Dog, it feels very simple and minimalistic, but then at the same time there’s alot of detail in there that somebody like me might end up obsessing over in future viewings. Like, every house he visits has a basketball hoop that a teenage son might enjoy, and something that’s pink, the color of the anonymous letter. Every kid who could be Don’s son wears clothes similar to his. Everywhere he goes, there’s something going on with younger women who flirt with him or say something that would make him think about his old Don Juan days. Like the scene in the airport where he has every chance to flirt with a flight attendant sitting next to him, and you don’t know if he doesn’t because he’s too old for that shit or if it’s because of this trip he’s on. And there’s alot of detail to Winston’s trip preparations, which were all done on the home computer. The itinerary is printed from his msn email account, the maps are from mapquest, he even made Don a mix CD with a personalized “Winston Records” cover.

There’s a couple little scenes at the beginning where Don talks to Winston’s little kids, and you think wow, Bill Murray really is great with kids. It wasn’t until later in the day it occurred to me they didn’t just put that in there to be cute, it was to emphasize how sad it is if this guy really had a son and missed out on 19 years of raising him. Because he would’ve been so good. So it’s deliberate disguised as casual.

Also there’s some kind of motif going on with the names: Don is compared to both Don Juan and Don Johnson, a young lolita is named Lolita, a dog has the same name as Jeffrey Wright’s character. What does it all mean? I don’t know yet. I don’t know.

And I guess that’s the best quality of this movie is that it lets you figure it all out for yourself. Get to work, you lazy fuck. It’s surprising how rare it is that you see a movie like this, where the camera will sit on a character as they’re thinking. And you got a pretty good idea based on the situation what he is probaly thinking about. But the movie’s not gonna insult you by telling you for sure.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, August 11th, 2005 at 2:14 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

19 Responses to “Broken Flowers”

  1. Thanks to the spambot my attention was drawn to this interesting review. I wonder why Chase hasn’t been privy to a career renaissance like Murray had. It’s nice to see him revived on “Community”, which I found compulsively watchable but astoundingly mediocre in the end. But yeah, Chase’s character on that show was so different than his National Lampoon persona, it left me wishing somebody had the vision to do something more credible with the man.

  2. Nobody can do anything with Chase. He’s an asshole and an egomaniac. He does what he wants and then complains about it later. Still funny, but I can’t see him trusting some young punk director to lead him out of his comfort zone.

    FLETCH is still awesome, though.

  3. That’s interesting. I went to (got kicked out of) Bard, the same tiny liberal arts college in Upstate NY that Chase did and I can imagine just the sort of egomaniacal asshole he is.

  4. It’s too bad because he always did excellent dramatic work on COMMUNITY whenever the show wanted to discuss the character’s loneliness and aging. Unfortunately, Chase was such an asshole that the writers moved farther and farther away from the more nuanced version of Pierce and kept going to the “Racist fat old asshole” well for jokes.

  5. Knox Harrington

    July 13th, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Chase was one suave motherfucker in that restaurant scene with Daryl Hannah in Memoirs of an Invisible Man. I would have gone home with him.

  6. I think Steve Martin would be more suited for the kind of renaissance that’s being talked about here. He’s way more convincing in dramatic roles than a lot of his contemporaries (that said, I do have a soft spot for his recent studio comedy THE BIG YEAR), and the right indie guy could do something that tries to reach an even keel between both sides.

    A Chevy movie I watched a lot as a kid, FUNNY FARM was on cable recently. It really doesn’t hold up to the previous adolescent overexposure (due to ad nauseum repeats on HBO). VACATION holds up as a strange relic that although made in 1983 felt like it could have been made in the 70’s. Partly because of the BRADY BUNCh-style editing (which I imagine was a concious choice), but mostly because there’s not one synthesizer or drum machine in the musical score (or “Holiday Road”) at all.

  7. I’ve always wondered, why is Chevy Chase so damn grumpy? what the fuck is his problem?

  8. I gotta be honest here. I would love to work with Chevy Chase one day, because underneath his asshole persona seems to be someone who deeply cares for what he does.

    At least I got the impression from the whole COMMUNITY affair. He didn’t start to complain about the low quality of the writing until season 3 was shooting, which was, although many fans don’t wanna hear it, really the point when the show went from “seriously good” to “awful crap that has nothing to do with the greatness of earlier seasons anymore”. Okay, by then he already had the beef with Harmon, but one reason why the quality of the show declined, was that Harmon apparently punished Chase by ignoring Pierce’s wonderful story arc from season two and turning him into a walking senility punchline.

    Another well publiced incident, was when he used the N-word on set. Okay, it wasn’t that well publiced, because while most reporting focused on “Oh no, Chevy Chase said N*****”, he actually used the word while complaining about the racism of Pierce and how long it would take until the writers would make him use the word as a joke. Again, he had a point here!

    Also if you read some of Chase’s interviews, you will notice that he not just never said anything negative about his co-stars, he even praised them often and even said he enjoys working with them.

    I’m not saying that Chevy is a nice guy (because he is not. Just read some of the other shit he pulled over the years), I just think that there is more to the story than “asshole celebrity burns every bridge with his behaviour”. And I think with a better showrunner, Pierce could still be a part of COMMUNITY (and the show would have been watchable beyond the first two seasons).

    And I’m also down for a Steve Martin comeback. He did some dramatic work a few time and was seriously great (but have you noticed that most comedians are?). I would love to see him, Martin Short (another one who needs a comeback and impressed with his dramatic appereances) and Chevy Chase in a low key premium cable sitcom. Or…just doing anything funny again.

  9. Martin Short is in PTA’s INHERENT VICE, so that could work out for him. Loved him in DAMAGES.

  10. I really don’t know what everyone’s problem with COMMUNITY Season 3 is. Some of my favorite episodes are in that season. The alternate timelines, the mock Civil War documentary, the fake clips show, the Halloween episode. Season 3 is awesome.

    I have not seen Season 4, though.

  11. It’s mostly because season 3 turned every character into former shells of themself (Like Abed becoming a borderline psychopath who can’t even scratch his ass anymore without having a nervoud breakdown or Chang turning into a Spongebob character.) and sacrificed good stories or jokes for wacky gimmick plots, like that video game episode, that took a sight gag, that was funny for 15 seconds and stretched it out to 20 minutes or that stupid air conditioner cult.

    The alternate timelines episode was great, though.

  12. CJ: I should have added that I read he was originally the choice for the Clooney character in UP IN THE AIR, and that Jason Reitman wanted it to be Steve’s LOST IN TRANSLATION. George was a better fit for the role (more age-appropriate too, nobody would believe Melanie Lynskey is Steve’s baby sister), but the idea was at least novel.

  13. Is it me or does chevy have a certain sadness in his eyes? It seems like for the past 20 or so years he looks like he’s one step away from hanging himself.

  14. CJ: I guess I always saw the characters as live-action cartoons, so the switch to more ambitious gimmicks and wacky plotlines just gave me more of what I liked about the show to begin with. It was always 90% snark, 10% heart for me, so there was no betrayal when things started getting really weird. It just felt like it was living up to its potential.

  15. I will concede that there was too much Chang. A little bit of Ken Jeong goes a long way.

    This was not a joke about his tiny langer. Until it was.

  16. Season 3 of Community isn’t terrible, I just figured that was the point everyone realized the show wasn’t as great as people had made it out to be. It aint no Parks and Rec, at least.

  17. They’re just different kinds of shows. P&R is the kind of show you could see running for 11 seasons because simply hanging out with the characters is the main draw, like CHEERS. COMMUNITY was always meant to be a show that burned bright and fast and died young before it started repeating itself, like ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT.

    Granted, neither of these shows are as good as the ones I compared them to.

  18. I’d compare P&R with King of the Hill. The comedy is structured differently and the jokes are sometimes buried in the middle of a scene, whereas Community feels like it’s structured to deliver a joke and you are almost prompted to laugh. Plus P&R is a nice show that is nice, like King of the Hill. And I guess Cheers.

  19. CJ- Chase was never happy with COMMUNITY. He criticized the show, the writing, sitcoms, network TV, Harmon, etc. Listen to any commentary with him from the first couple seasons and you can hear Harmon and the rest struggling to be civil as Chase expresses his clear disinterest.

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