Bill Murray as Don Johnston
Jeffrey Wright as Winston
Sharon Stone as Laura
Frances Conroy as Dora
Jessica Lange as Carmen
Tilda Swinton as Penny
Julie Delpy as Sherry
Alexis Dziena as Lolita
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Just when you think 2005 will go down in history as the year good movies became endangered species, we get an entry that shows us there is still life yet in celluloid land. Bill Murray, reprising his lonely man role he’s been fine tuning in recent films such as Rushmore and Lost in Translation, teams with independent writer/director Jim Jarmusch of Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai fame in a film that gives us a man’s journey and self-discovery and some other clichéd sounding plot devices, yet the movie turns out better than it sounds. This is in a large part due to the massive amount of talent throughout the picture, in addition to the two I named previously. Murray is Don Johnston, a ladies man in his later years, who receives and anonymous letter from one of his former flames telling him he has a son he never knew he had who is now old enough he has come searching for his father. Don Johnston does not know which woman it could be, as there are five possibilities.
Johnston is aided by his neighbor Winston, who is a mystery buff who jumps on the chance to try to solve a real life mystery. As Johnston is currently moping around when his current girl Sherry walks out on him in the beginning of the film because he is unable or unwilling to move on to the next stage of his life, Winston is there to trudge onward. Winston is a family man with the perfect wife, five children, and three jobs; quite the opposite of Murray’s Johnston’s Don Juan lifestyle. As the “Don Juan” aspect is brought up repeatedly in the film, it’s a visual mile marker that is slightly overused, one of the film’s few flaws. Winston is a great character, his interactions with Johnston are highlights of the film, they have wonderful chemistry despite the characters being polar opposites.
After getting a list of the five possible girls, Winston tracks them all down and sets up Johnston with everything he needs, from maps, plane tickets, rental cars, and advice. Winston gives Johnston a list of things to look for, such as typewriters (the note was written with one), pink stationary like the note was written in, and pictures that may show a boy resembling Johnston. Winston also advises to give each of the women pink flowers, in a running theme. There are four women to visit and one grave, as one of the women had passed on from an auto accident a few years prior.
So now the movie is a roadtrip type movie, with Bill Murray on his adventure. As you can quite imagine, looking up girlfriends from 19/20 years ago is a somewhat awkward social affair, and the film does a good job with showing the different reactions that would result from such a scenario.
First up is Sharon Stone, now a single mom widow with a teenage daughter named Lolita. Lolita wears some nice outfits. I’m a big fan of this section of the movie. Second to get visited is Dora, played by Stone’s fellow Catwoman alum Frances Conroy. She’s married to a husband played brilliantly by Christopher McDonald, who isn’t going to stand for her old lover to show up unannounced without trying to assert his territory. This is animal communicator Carmen, played by Jessica Lange. Finally, we get biker chick Penny, played by Tilda Swinton. In addition, Johnston visits the grave of his departed ex-girl.
In addition to the traveling, the movie has a nice Jazz soundtrack, partially thanks to a mixed CD of traveling music given by Winston. The opening sequence of the letter in the mail sorter is well done, and could have worked if expanded. The movie’s ending is the type of ending that could make many people very angry. We won’t get into the ending until after the rating, so to give you adequate warning to stop if you don’t want to know what happens, so your experience isn’t spoiled like ours was by some idiotic reviewer from SF Weekly, who gave the ending away like it was nothing (and didn’t get to seem why the movie ended that way) as well as taking joy in pointing out the Don Juan allusions, like the movie didn’t make it clear enough and he smartly picked them up himself. So screw that guy, but see the movie, even the negative responses I have read or spoken to enjoy several of the same aspects, such as Winston and several of the lines in the film, and the soundtrack. Heck, just listen to the soundtrack, you can find it streaming on the Official Site. Considering the craptacular year we’ve been having for movies, when something really good comes out, we should support it, less we get even more mediocre remakes next year. Though we’ll probably get that anyway. Expect the remake of this in 2009, starring Will Ferrell and a CGI breakdancing robot.
Rated 8/10 (Pink Flowers, Mr. Johnston, Animal Communicator, Biker Girl, Receptionist and then some, At the door, back at home, The director gives us a final picture)
YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!
So, the ending. Yes, the ending is ambiguous; Johnston does not find the son he was searching for. There is a few hints, but no concrete answers. However, the search for the son is not the point of the movie. The ending shows that Johnston has finally accepted that he can move on with his life to the next step, and is actually expecting to move on to becoming a father. The journey is without payoff and we are left only with is realization that he will probably not reach that step at this time. Though there is hope, as the girl that left in the beginning of the film contacted him and still has feelings for him. Thanks to the journey, he is closer to what she wanted, and he may end up settling down with her.
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