Stranger Than Paradise (1984)


Could have been stranger though
Could have been stranger though

Genre: Comedy Drama

Starring: John Lurie (Down by Law"Oz"), Eszter Balint (The Linguini IncidentBail Jumper)

Directed By: Jim Jarmusch (Dead ManGhost Dog: Way Of The Samurai)

Overview: Three aimless individuals spend their time together, wandering cities as they wander in life.

Stranger than Paradise is one of those bittersweet films. Being well versed in Jarmuschian film lore, I know what to expect from this man. Of the seven films of his I've seen prior to this, five are light on plot, and of those three are nigh plotless vignettes of character happenings. Figuring that Stranger Than Paradise, being his second feature, would be one of these 'more character than plot' explorations, I was bolstered, ready for nothingness to happen. And it did, but not in a boring or bad way. I will warn you casual film viewers, ye so familiar with the Lowest Common Denominator formula that you need it for entertainment, this is not action-packed cinema; it's art-house. Ye who know not Jarmusch need to understand that his particular brand of independent film is more cerebral and silent in its conveyances, and Stranger than Paradise is certainly one of the films in which silence speaks volumes.

The plot revolves around three people. There's a small-time gambler living in New York who does very little. There's his Hungarian cousin who drops by and lives with him for ten days, and by extension, does nothing. Then there's his best friend, who helps him... do nothing. The trio is like a posse without a leader. When they do in fact decide to undertake a task, they do it with poor planning, often ending up with amusing consequences.

The film is cut up into many short scenes separated by frequent fades to black indicating passages of time and helping set the mood of plentiful nothingness.

"You know, it's funny... you come to someplace new, an'... and everything looks just the same." - Eddie

What I found interesting about Jarmusch's style is the scenes with a great potential for action are often those that have the least.  When Willie and Eddie crash Eva's date to the movies, rather than watching the screen showcasing the Kung-Fu taking place or a moment at the box office, or the goodbye kiss, we're made instead to watch those scenes that are the most sedentary: being trained on the viewers as they sit silently watching, or inside the car while Eva is barely visible off in the distance saying goodnight to her date. The most exciting moment I could imagine taking place would be when Eddie and Willy go to the dog and horse tracks to gamble away the rest of their money, and instead of following them, we instead stay with Eva, stuck at the motel wondering where the boys went without even a note to let her know where her companions went.

You guys can get me a job at a sausage factory and all I have to give you is hot dog buns?
You guys can get me a job at a sausage factory and all I have to give you my buns?

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 8 Script: 7 Plot: 8 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 78% (Odd Yet Beautiful)

The plot is by far a secondary concern over following lives unfold.  It's not really grand drama nor is it hilarious comedy, and though one sometimes experiences instances of boredom, these rare moments are clearly intentional, indicative of the droning course the lives of these unimaginative people take. It's fun art film, it's well made, and though not exciting, Stranger than Paradise is an entertaining study in the aimlessness of the B-type personality, as well as a solid glimpse into Jarmuschian cinema.

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