Don Johnston (Bill Murray) – listless, retired computer wiz – looks on as his lover (Julie Delpy) moves out, exasperated at his reluctance or inability to commit. With a near-simultaneity that could be coincidental, he receives an anonymous letter from an old flame warning he’ll soon be visited by their son, born unbeknown to Don about two decades ago. Depressed by this unexpected news and egged on by Ethiopian, mystery novel-nut pal Winston (Jeffrey Wright), he sets off on a cross-country odyssey to investigate which of his exes from that era might be the sender: a journey of the soul as hilarious as it is – at a stretch – educative, perhaps. Since the women Don meets are played by Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy (from ‘Six Feet Under’), Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton, it’s fair to say this superb slice of mirthful Murray melancholia has more immediate mainstream appeal than most Jarmusch fare. At the same time, however, it’s still a Jarmusch film through and through, with delicious deadpan (the carrot and cat gags are particularly marvellous); minimalist but expressive mise-en-scène; imaginative use of music (jazz funk from Ethiopia’s Mulatu Astatke, but also Marvin Gaye, Gabriel Fauré et al); and a characteristically keen eye for the qualities and moods of the American landscape. But what does it all mean? The women, certainly, hint at different aspects of Johnston’s personality and past interests, though their professions and predicaments now – widowhood (spirited), real estate, rock-chickery and Talk-to-the-Animals Inc included – give a sense of the outwardly impassive Don sliding into regret, remorse or simply self-analysis. But, as ever, Jarmusch deploys a wondrously light touch and even his ending offers Don no obvious solution (if indeed there was a problem, save confusion over what to do next), just subtle emotional satisfaction in the poignant register. In short, it’s an existential Zen road-comedy fable, a joy from start to finish.
|Release date:||Friday October 21 2005|
Cast and crew