This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Mary Conti’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Part of the Jim Jarmusch Retrospective
Don Johnston is no one. He may have his own unique quirks, his own close friend, and his own history, but he is a nobody. He is only an archetype. Early in Broken Flowers he is seen watching Alexander Korda's The Private Life of Don Juan with Douglas Fairbanks, one of many people to play the character, and Bill Murray's Don Johnston is just another actor in the role of the reality of the character. Johnston doesn't show much emotion in this scene, but we can tell deep down there is a feeling of regret due to the fact there is nothing to define his life. It's to his own credit that he "did some things in computers", but it's honestly not enough. His newest girlfriend is leaving him, and while he's against it, he is clearly used to this by now. He has become a shell for these woman. There is nothing for Johnston to define himself, until a letter arrives that promises the vague notion of a son. The conflict then arises. Who sent the letter? He does not know.
Johnston then sets out on a journey as he sets out to find any one of his past loves that might have sent the letter. A straightforward journey it might seem, it is more a reflection for Johnston of who he is. He has various different interactions with each women. Some are eventful, others are not. Some are warm and welcoming, and others despise his mere presence. Despite his best efforts, he is unable to find the lover who sent him the letter, or his son, and Johnston continues a life as a man without a definition.
Then something happens. On a plane, he flashes back to all the interactions he had, and he realizes that though he has done nothing personally, he has made a grand impact on these women's lives, and all of them remember who he is, and how, for better or for worse, he has influenced their lives. Now he is even more desperate to find his son, even going as far as to initiate a conversation with a young drifter to find out if he's his son. He's unsuccessful, but a young man who looks awfully like him drives by, and Johnston realizes that even if he never finds his son, he's out there, and that's all the accomplishment in life he needs.
Broken Flowers might not be Jarmusch's best, but it is most definitely his most refined and human film. It's a look at the broken heart of a man who is nothing more than a genre archetype, and how his struggles to find some unique meaning in his own life makes him an individual on his own terms.