Stranger Than Paradise 1984 ★★★½

I have something of an odd relationship to Jim Jarmusch. Broken Flowers was my first experience with his work, and it marked for me not just what I hold to be Bill Murray's best performance, but a filmmaker whose themes and grasp of them had me absolutely fascinated. It wasn't until seeing Permanent Vacation about a year ago that I finally encountered more from him, and that I hated. Coffee and Cigarettes was next (the full feature version), which I admired aesthetically, but found narratively intolerable. Stranger Than Paradise had a mixture of all these reactions, though leaning of course far closer to the Broken Flowers end of the spectrum. Aesthetically, it's marvellous, especially considering the nature of the production. Its reputed influence upon a generation and its standing as one of the most important films in the history of American independent cinema is clear, and it's very hard not to admire it for the ground it paved. Narratively, however, it frustrated me. Jarmusch gives us a story of wide appeal, the ideas of restlessness and uncertain identity at the film's heart fascinating in concept, but less so in execution. Consider it in relation to something like Wim Wenders' Alice in the Cities, which tackles many of the same themes, in doing so endearing us far more to its central character. Stranger Than Paradise's characters aren't unlikeable, but they left little significant impression upon me, arguably an intentional summation of their insignificance yet still something which held me back from appreciating the ideas Jarmusch was trying to espouse more fully. This is a fine film—well directed, confidently acted, beautifully shot, thematically rich—but it's a troubled one, lacking perhaps the maturity to mark it a great work.

4 Comments

  • It sounds like you haven't seen "Down By Law," I would recommend it based on your review. By the way, I enjoy your column from Atlanta, GA.

  • Agreed, you'd probably like Down By Law more though Jarmusch doesn't seem to be a director that's gelling as well with you as he does with me. I'm very intrigued to know what you'll think of his film The Limits of Control if you ever see it. 80% of people hate it. I'm in the 20%.

    Actually I'm very saddened you didn't like this movie. It never ever fails to put the hugest smile on my face every time I see it. To some it might seem empty but it's great fun for me. Ah well. I'm still damn stunned and amazed with how quickly you're going through films on my top 100, thank you sir!

  • I did like it! I know the review sounds primarily negative, but that's just me trying to justify my not loving it. I certainly wasn't bored at any point, and it gave me a lot to think about. What I really don't understand though is how so many people seem to find it funny. Obviously I missed something cos everyone who loves it seems to have been really amused by it, I just had no idea I was meant to be laughing.

  • I found the characters quietly amusing. None of it is laugh out loud funny, but I can't not smile while watching this film, particularly the ending. "What the hell are they gonna do in Budapest?" is one of my favourite quotes, heck, probably from any movie.

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