Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Broken Flowers: Fun With the Reviewers

On Friday we went to see the new Jim Jarmusch film Broken Flowers, and I was struck, first of all, that Bill Murray is playing exactly the same character he played in Lost in Translation. It's a little sad that a veteran art filmmaker like Jarmusch is essentially doing a sequel to a Sofia Coppola movie, with a wacky Ethiopian neighbor and his Ethiopiques CDs adding in some masala cultural exoticism.

I was flipping through the reviews, and amazed by the amount of B.S., but I can't get up the energy to 'fisk' them thoroughly. So today I am decoding just the one line summaries of reviews of the film on Rotten Tomatoes. Sometimes reviewers find nicer sounding language that masks what they really feel about a movie. The masks are particularly impressive on a film like this -- an extremely slow-paced, abstract (largely plotless) art film that is kept afloat by Bill Murray's natural affability. I'm not saying I didn't like it (I enjoyed it "in my own way"), but rather that the reviewers are a little desperate to find something to say.

For instance, take this one-liner from Variety:

1. "With Broken Flowers, Jim Jarmusch's sly, touching new film, Bill Murray reaffirms his status as the quietest comic actor in movies today."

Translation: Bill Murray repeats himself! He phoned this one in.

2. "Jarmusch doesn't just let the audience be a fly on the wall; it's more like the whole ant and the magnifying glass experiment on a hot summer day. "

Translation: You will be bored out of your skull, readers! I sure was. I kept hoping that the screen would catch fire, so I could get my money back. And the movie was so boring I was able to come up with some pretty outrageous metaphors to describe the precise texture of my colossal disinterest.

3. "Admittedly, some may find the movie's pacing a bit self-indulgent and its sense of humor more than a little odd, but this rewarding, cinematic voyage of self-discovery also provides some real food for thought."
Translation: I didn't get this movie, it made no sense to me, but maybe there was something I missed. I'm a little slow when it comes to understanding challenging films, you see. I used to write for the Sports Section, but they transferred me.

4. "A wonderful collaboration between two unique talents, Broken Flowers perhaps isn’t for casual mainstream tastes, but it speaks eloquently to what’s broken in all of us."

Translation: No translation possible. The phrase "it speaks eloquently to what's broken in all of us" is the purest and most perfect nonsense. Any reviewer with a tendency to such sublime meaninglessness is clearly getting paid by the word.

5. ""Exhibits a confident delicacy and palpable, mature sadness."

Translation: Depressing as hell. Don't forget to bring your Prozac.

6. "Jarmusch isn’t blessed with as rounded a social collision as Mystery Train and Night on Earth. But it’s the best of his post-Dead Man output."

Two translations: a. I have watched more movies than you, and therefore I can tell you that Jim Jarmusch's post-Dead Man output has generally been a bit sub-par. And b) while watching this film you'll wish you were sixteen again, out after curfew, watching Night On Earth at the Biograph Theater in Georgetown... Sigh, we were young then, weren't we?

7. "As with previous Jarmusch rambles, Broken Flowers risks getting overpowered by aridity and drift. That it barely avoids such a fate can be credited entirely to Murray's graceful empathy with loss and regret."

Translation: I hated this film, hated hated hated it. But Jim Jarmusch is widely thought of as a genius, so I have to find some redeeming value in the film if I want to keep this job.

8. "Take this trip with him and chances are, you'll find the journey increasingly funny and touching."

Translation: Actually Desson Thomson of the Washington Post thought he was reviewing March of the Penguins. Wrong film.

9. "Audiences will laugh, mainly to prove they're awake, but the humor is pretty thin."

Translation: No translation necessary!!! Finally, an honest reviewer. Kyle Smith of the New York Post, you are the only honest reviewer in Babylon. I send you an honorary ripe tomato.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I loved Lost in Translation, but that was because I didn't think it was a great film or anything. Let me explain. It's prose for me, you know. Always. So, somehow this movie seemed like a little mood piece, a short story briefly visualized. I didn't read too much into it or rapture over it, but I did like it's secrets and corners and silence. Quiet. I liked the quiet.

MD http://ekcupchai.typepad.com

MD needs to remember her blogger password so she doesn't keep posting anonymously....

6:46 PM  
Blogger Rob Breymaier said...

I haven't seen it but have heard similar complaints. It sounds like this movie should be compared to Ghost Dog which I'm guessing was a better film since I really liked it. (Then again, I was writing a thesis that included the importance of the Wu Tang Clan's renaming of the geography of NY/NJ at the time the movie was in theaters.)

10:16 PM  
Blogger Prithi Shetty said...

This is a great one. I never laughed at something filled with so many heavy words :D

11:24 PM  
Blogger Amardeep said...


I see what you mean about the quiet. The thing I liked most about "Broken Flowers" were the slow, still shots. As any serious art filmmaker should do, Jarmusch forces the viewer to learn to actually look at the screen -- to observe closely and actively -- not simply watch the movie.

There's no doubt that it's a serious work of art (though I still like the earlier Jarmusch a bit more), but what I was strucky by was how much the audience in the theater where I saw the film hated it. People were yawning, and they were absolutely incredulous about the limp ending (in which nothing was really resolved).

It made me think that many reviewers were in the same boat. And lo and behold, these reviewers do hint that they didn't like or understand the film, but are perhaps afraid to admit it.

Rob, I thought Ghost Dog was really inventive and 'cool'. But I had problems with that film that are somewhat similar to my frustrations with what he's doing here. Even if he has an amazing eye for visual details, he is really cold when it comes to crafting narratives around sympathetic characters. Ghost Dog was a little flat emotionally -- and Broken Flowers is really flat.

8:48 AM  
Blogger Rob Breymaier said...

Ghost Dog really made me feel for the main character. And, actually, I really enjoyed the supporting characters. I also enjoyed the experiment in Wu Tang mythology and how it showed that all closed systems are dead ends. I really felt for Forest Whitaker's character at what I assume were the appropriate spots in the film.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous DesiDancer said...

Delicious tomatoes, Amardeep. Thanks for saving me $10 and 2 hours of my life :)

1:09 PM  
Anonymous brimful said...

I think you should do this every week with one movie, Amardeep, because it's hilarious! And, as DesiDancer pointed out, it's also a cost-savings for us readers. ;)

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Suvir said...

I felt the same after watching Scarlett Johansson in Lost In Translation. She then did Girl with a Pearl Earring and it was deja vu all over again.

But her quiet beauty and melancholy (with the implied gravitas) carried her through both roles IMO.

2:55 PM  
Blogger Puneet said...

thank you so much for this! agree with DesiDancer and brimful..the laugh, saved some money and time not spent on this movie, compared to how some people spend 3-4 hours watching really crappy indian movies.

Havent watched the movie but the trailer almost put me to sleep with its pace!!

1:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the movie was great. Jim Jarmusch style is still here, the camera use has changed since his first movies, and the new use of camera and cutting gives a more fluid narrative technique in the film, but still it holds a recognisable Jarmusch style. The fact that some people complain about the lack of plot throughout the whole movie is absurd to me. Why does a film have to be packed with action to be a god film? Is the life packed with plot highlights? Than why should the movie be different? (As Jim Jarmusch sad it himself) It’s just a question of taste, and maybe even more habit. If the Hollywood movies are preferred, than this is definitely not the movie for you, and I don’t think it was meant to be. I still think Jarmusch is a great auteur. Bottom of line, if you like Hollywood movies, where every aspect of the movie is explained so much, so the audience has no room for thinking for themselves, than you won’t like the movie. If you on the other hand like the space created for interpreting both the style, narrative, and technique used in the film, than Broken Flowers is definitely a “must see”.

1:54 PM  
Anonymous Cuban Cigars said...

To be honest I loved Broken Flowers. Bill Murray is a fantastic dry actor. This movie is under estimated. Thanks, David

6:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey i thought this film was great, bill murray is top talent. thought the meanings of the reviews was hilarious.

7:16 PM  

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