Jim Jarmusch is feeling a little freaked-out. It all started last May at the Cannes film festival, where his latest movie, Broken Flowers, starring Bill Murray, premiered to a standing ovation and won the Grand Prix (second to the Palme d’Or). Veteran indie auteur Jarmusch doesn’t believe in awards for artistic expression, but it wasn’t the honor itself that made him nervous. (He graciously accepted his prize, lest he come off as ”very arrogant.”) What sent the director spinning was the notion that Broken Flowers has mainstream potential. ”When people say, ‘This film’s more commercial than your others,’ I want to reach for a gun,” he says in his trademark bottom-octave deadpan. ”What does that mean, ‘It’s commercial’? Have I failed?”
For the past 25 years, the Akron, Ohio, native has blissfully kept to the fringes of American cinema, writing and directing such diamonds in the rough as 1984’s Stranger Than Paradise and 1999’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, which have established his artistic bona fides. And he’s done it without the money and meddling of big Hollywood studios. ”I’m happy if people respond well to the film. I just don’t think in commercial terms,” says the filmmaker, 52, whose white rockabilly pompadour matches his downtown aesthetic. ”I’m not interested in designing a film for a specific audience, testing it, or any of that. We tried to make the film that we, those people I’m collaborating with, would like. Also,” he adds, ”I don’t like the light shined on me. I like to remain in the shadows with the other vampires.”
He might have to get used to life outside the crypt — at least for a little while. Though unmistakably Jarmuschian in its understated, funny-sad sensibility, Broken Flowers might prove his most accessible film to date. Murray plays Don Johnston, a wealthy, commitment-phobic bachelor whose life consists of sitting glumly on his couch, ”looking to be alive,” as the actor puts it. But then Don receives an anonymous letter from an ex-lover informing him that he has a 19-year-old son. Egged on by his neighbor, a Columbo wannabe played with gusto by Jeffrey Wright (Angels in America), Don reluctantly sets out on a road trip to reconnect with the former flames who could be the child’s mother — four very different exes played by Sharon Stone, Tilda Swinton, Jessica Lange, and Six Feet Under‘s Frances Conroy. Thanks to Focus Features, which has an excellent track record of releasing smart, grown-up movies like Lost in Translation and Far From Heaven, Broken Flowers is poised to reach a bigger U.S. audience than any of Jarmusch’s previous efforts. On Aug. 5, it will hit 18 target markets — not just the usual New York and L.A. — and expand from there.
”Jim has a core following, and as opposed to gradually reaching out to them, we’re going after them immediately,” says Focus co-president David Linde, who did not hesitate to grant Jarmusch his customary final cut on the $10 million movie. ”And Bill Murray creates awareness. His performance is so personal, we’re certain it’s going to help the film cross over.”