Jarmuschs new film won the Grand Prix at this year's Cannes International Film Festival. The story line is simple. Murray plays Don Johnston, a name that figures in some of the movies comic moments. A confirmed middle-aged bachelor, but still a bit of a Don Juan, hes been dumped by his latest lover, Sherry (Julie Delpy). A successful businessman, he was a computer entrepreneur before he retired, Don resigns himself to being alone again, although considering what we find out about his way with women, he may not be alone for long. After Sherry leaves, Don spends most of his time in his sleek house with its modern furnishings watching old movies on his television. He may or may not be depressed. He just might be exhausted and recharging his biological batteries. Fate interferes with the arrival of a mysterious unsigned letter, written on pink stationery. Its from an anonymous former lover who reveals that he has a 19-year-old son who may now be looking for his father. Don is urged to investigate this intriguing mystery by his closest friend and next-door neighbor, Winston (Jeffrey Wright), an amateur detective and family man. Reluctant to travel at all, Don finally accedes to Winstons exhortations, accepts his assistance, and embarks on a cross-country trip in search of clues from four former women in his life, played by Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, and Tilda Swinton. The unannounced visit to each of these very unique women brings new surprises for Don, who is compelled to confront his past. Each step looking back moves him a little bit forward.
Whether Don is actually depressed by Sherrys departure or merely indifferent is something Jarmusch wants you to ponder. But its clear that his impulse is to do nothing. Winston is the opposite of Don, who relishes his relaxed life having made his money and attendant Mercedes automobile, etc. The neighbor is a hard-working family man, with a wife, five children and three jobs. Winston is convinced that with the right clues Don can find the mother of his supposed son and put together the missing pieces of his life. A reluctant sleuth if ever there were one, Don takes off for short reunions with four women he once knew. He travels to their homes (thanks to Winstons legwork on the Internet) and seeks out possible clues. On the advice of the neighbor, Don will look for a preponderance of pink objects, perhaps a typewriter, or a basketball hoop (signifying in Winstons world, a boy once lived there). To each visit, Don brings pink flowers. He discovers that the women from his past are all unique and some have changed dramatically from what he remembers. Their reactions are also unique. Don finds suspicions, anger, warmth, a night of sex, coldness, a sterile meal, a genuine Lolita, aloofness, and lots of pink.
But, does he find what hes looking for? I wont say because this is a mystery after all. And one should never spoil a movie for another. But if you know anything about Jarmusch, you know that everything is not going to be tied up in a neat, little bundle. The best movies seduce you, not clobber you over the head. You bring your own lifes history to the journey and a good film enhances your own experiences.
Overall, the title Broken Flowers might point to a defeat of romance, but Im not so sure. As Don goes back to the women from his life, he, and we, discover that he was and is quite a gentleman, a chivalrous spirit if you will a delightful romanticist. Nestled into Murrays quiet demeanor is a canyon of emotion. He may be a guy at peace with himself, but hes still a man with a sense of wonder about who he was. Its up to the moviegoer to decide if this is a film about regret or a film about hope.
Jarmusch has crafted a beautiful work. The acting from everyone, especially Murray, is sublime. Each of the female characters (even Winstons wife and the aforementioned Lolitaesque young woman) comes with her own eccentricities. Also sublime is the musical score from Ethopian jazz artist Mulatu Astatke.
Broken Flowers is a movie about a man who may be many things. Like all humans, hes flawed. But is he a lost soul? Unhappy? Or is he content? Is he more than just a lover to the women? Does the journey he takes change him? Youll see for yourself because Jarmusch does provide clues. And these clues are part of one of the best films of the year.
The Aristocrats is a documentary feature in which nearly 100 comics tell or discuss the same joke. Its a classic joke, rarely heard except within the world of comedy clubs and backstage get-togethers. The gag is much like a secret handshake in a private club. The joke goes back to vaudeville days and, who knows, perhaps court jesters were telling it to noble kings, or buffoons were letting it roll for Roman emperors.
The joke goes something like this: a family walks into a talent agents office and the father tells the agent he has a great act. The agent says show me. The family it can include dad, mom, little kids, grandparents, aunts, uncles, pets (depends on whos telling the joke) then shows the agent the routine. Its the filthiest routine ever imagined. Vulgar, lewd, rude, crude, dirty, disgusting, etc. When they are done, the agent says great, but what do you call it? With a Ta-Da flourish, the father says: we call it The Aristocrats.
Not funny, you say? Trust me, its utterly hilarious because every comic who tells the gag in the movie puts his or her own spin on the joke and that spin can take you to Pluto and beyond and then back again. Youve never heard anything like the aristocrats joke told in all its belly-busting glory. And hearing the same joke told and re-told is not tiresome because everyone tells it differently. What you discover as you watch The Aristocrats is that youre sitting in on a comic education. The movie touches on the history of the gag. It reveals how to properly tell a joke. It delivers insights on style and timing. Ultimately, the movies not just about telling a joke, its about the nature of humor and why we laugh.
The film is directed by comic Paul Provenza and features such comic superstars (some are performers, some are writers) as George Carlin, Robin Williams, Gilbert Gottfried, Eddie Izzard, Carrot Top, Phyllis Diller, Shelley Berman, Chris Rock, Tim Conway, Pat Cooper, Whoopi Goldberg, Mario Cantone, Michael McKean, Emo Philips, Martin Mull, Don Rickles, Rita Rudner, Penn Jillette, Teller, Bruce Vilanch, Fred Willard, Steven Wright, Chuck McCann, Merrill Markoe, Jon Stewart, The Smothers Brothers, Carrie Fisher, Rip Taylor, Paul Krassner, Richard Lewis, Eric Idle, Joe Franklin, Bill Maher, David Brenner, Billy Connolly, and many others.
The Aristocrats is as much fun as a barrel of monkeys. And, astonishingly, this gloriously ribald movie also includes a version of the joke as told by a mime. How can you resist it? By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor
Two movies to bring laughter into your lives this week. One film, Broken Flowers, is sweet and gentle, almost Zen-like in its appreciation that silences can make you laugh. The other, The Aristocrats, is raucous and lewd. It gives you a sense of what classic burlesque must have been like after waves of European immigrants came ashore in the U.S. in the late 1800s and early 1900s and giddy entertainment meant guaranteed whoops from pies in the face and dirty words.