Sunday, September 16, 2012

718. Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

Running Time: 89 minutes
Directed By: Jim Jarmusch
Written By: Jim Jarmusch
Main Cast: John Lurie, Eszter Balint, Richard Edson, Cecillia Stark
Click here to view the trailer


The last time a "hat trick" was done here at "1001 Movies I (Apparently) Must See Before I Die" was back in November 2011 and it was dedicated to Sergio Leone. For the newcomers, that ended with all three of those films garnering spots in the TOP 10 of that season's TOP 20 list. Can Jim Jarmusch and his three offerings achieve the same feat? It's looking good so far.

"Stranger Than Paradise" is broken up into three parts and stars John Lurie (Willie), Eszter Balint (Eva) and Richard Edson (Eddie). The first part, entitled "The New World" begins with Willie answering his telephone and being given the news that he'll have to put up his Hungarian cousin Eva for a period of ten days, while Eva's permanent roommate, her Aunt Lotte (Stark), spends some time in the hospital. Willie isn't exactly excited to get this news, citing that Eva will disrupt his whole life, but ultimately gives in. When Eva arrives, Willie doesn't exactly give her the Hilton experience, clearing dirty laundry off of a cot and being very short with her, demanding that she speak English. Over the next ten days, Willie and Eva do their best to make things work, with Willie coming around more and more each day, trying his best to explain the fundamentals of football and the definition of a TV dinner to Eva. After ten days, Willie buys Eva a new dress and sends her on her way to Cleveland, where she'll take permanent residency with Aunt Lotte. The second part, entitled "One Year Later", opens with Willie and his best friend Eddie playing poker at someone's apartment. One of the men they're playing poker with accuses the two of cheating and Willie and Eddie take off. This part focuses more on the friendship between Willie and Eddie and establishes the two as gambling junkies. Willie decides that since the duo has just made $600 at cards, that they should get a car and drive to Cleveland for a surprise visit with Eva. They do just that, arriving in a very snowy Ohio and find Eva working at a hotdog stand. Later, Willie and Eddie decide that they'd like to see Florida and decide to take the car south and extend their vacation. Part three, entitled "Paradise", takes place in Florida, with Willie, Eddie and tag-a-long Eva.


In 2004, while working at "Movie Gallery", a video store chain, I happened upon a film called "Coffee and Cigarettes". I wasn't a smoker (yet), but for some reason the title and the list of stars that appeared on the front cover of the DVD appealed to me. I rented it and loved it, subsequently buying it not long after. It was around this time that I started to notice the name's of directors, rather than the names of the celebrities appearing in the films and Jim Jarmusch was an early discovery that I made all on my own, without recommendation or coaxing from another. I think we all have director's like that; ones that we discover without recommendation and therefore are special to us because we almost feel like we had a hand in discovering them. Not long after that viewing of "Coffee and Cigarettes", I made it a point to see more Jarmusch films and later that year I saw "Stranger Than Paradise" for the first time. I loved that one too and realized that it was the very true to life narratives and plain photography of Jarmusch that appealed to me. There wasn't anything snazzy or awe inspiring about his pictures. He laid his resources out on the table, gave us very basic characters and dialogue and in the case of "Stranger Than Paradise", gave us interesting interactions that felt very real and true.

"Stranger Than Paradise" is a hole in the wall movie and it's not hard to see that it was filmed on a shoestring budget. However Jarmusch's talents shine as he presents an interesting film that is primarily about loneliness and isolation, or at least that's what I took away from it. When Willie gets the news of Eva's staying with him for ten days, he puts up a fight, a fight that he ultimately loses and is forced to play host to his Hungarian cousin, whom he's never met before. When Eva arrives, Willie is very stubborn, proving to Eva and maybe even himself that he would preferably be alone and that he doesn't need or want a roommate. He is very short with Eva, griping at her about everything he possibly can and making her feel as unwelcome as possible. When the time comes for Eva to leave, Willie stares blankly as she packs her bag, asking her to leave him a few packs of Chesterfields. He gives her a new dress, which he picked out personally and sends her to Cleveland. Willie is now alone again and he realizes that being alone isn't all he originally made it out to be. He realizes that his dumpy little apartment isn't much of a life and that at least with Eva around, he had a companion. One year later, Willie still realizes that loneliness isn't an option and convinces Eddie to borrow a car so that the two can go to Cleveland. Willie is at his happiest during the car ride, playing little games with Eddie, calling his name and then turning away, realizing that soon he'll have not one, but two companions, more than he's ever had. When they arrive at Aunt Lotte's house, Willie is even happy to see her, accepting her home cooking graciously and scarfing it down with a smile on his face, realizing that it's good to be around other people. When he finally reunites with Eva, he treats her better than he ever did in New York, being appreciative of her company and even holding conversations with her. In Florida, he starts to take the companionship for granted again, wanting to break out of his rut and go gambling, forcing Eva to stay behind. When Willie loses his money, he flies off the handle, yelling at both Eva and Willie. In the end, they're all left alone again, traveling in different directions, destined to be alone.

The film also seems to prove that there is no such thing as paradise, that no matter where you go, who you're with or what you're doing, life presents the same thing to everyone - a lot of mundane packed with glimpses of excitement. Or maybe I'm just reading way too much into it. Maybe the thing I liked most about "Stranger Than Paradise" was observing the characters and watching their seemingly ad-libbed interactions and conversations. I have to mention John Lurie and what a treat he was to watch on the screen. It's a shame that Lurie didn't make it bigger as an actor because I really loved watching him here. In my opinion he was magnificent, as were Balint and Edson. If you decide to check out "Stranger Than Paradise" then please don't go in expecting a lot. Like I said, this movie is a hole in the wall flick and it doesn't demand hype. It's just a movie that is a pleasure to watch and observe and one that I think most people will either love or hate. I, for one, loved it!

RATING: 9/10  I'm not going full out '10' just yet, but come RECAP time I might that '9'. Next up is going to be "Dead Man", despite the fact that chronologically it isn't next in line. However, I have yet to receive "Down by Law" from Netflix so that's the way it's gotta' be.


September 16, 2012  10:54pm


  1. Great review! I'm glad you like "Stranger Than Paradise". Such a simple film, but somehow it's very powerful. It's such a pleasure to observe these characters, their interactions,... Great music, and I also really liked the end of the film.

    And yes, John Lurie was awesome, he is also awesome in "Down by Law".

    Btw, Jim Jarmusch has a cameo in the hotdog stand, where Eva is working. ~Sandra

  2. Wow, I did not know about the cameo from Jarmusch Sandra. Thanks for pointing that out. "Down by Law" review coming tonight, hopefully.


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