PTAbro’s review published on Letterboxd:
Wanting to give Jarmusch another try after seeing Coffee and Cigarettes years ago, I figured I'd start from the beginning. With his debut film, Permanent Vacation, it's obvious that Jarmusch has an incredibly unique style and vibe that is almost the antithesis to Hollywood sensibilities and imaginings of rebellion and ennui. Instead of examining where that malaise comes from, he simply takes it as fact that some people feel this way, which is narratively liberating. He understands that Hollywood has been bastardizing this type of character for decades, and instead dives right into a slice-of-life story of this kind of character. Instead of being told through exposition and philosophical dialogues why Allie does what he does, Jarmusch is better able to focus simply on who he is.
For a debut film, Permanent Vacation is less stylistically impressive than it is interesting. Jarmusch seems to blend that Gen-X angst with a Beat vibe and lets the atmosphere and ambiguous back-story fill in the gaps. Chris Parker as Allie is phenomenal. His nasally voice and beanpole build are very conducive to imagining that this character was no act for him - that he is this much of an outcast in real life. There's a sense of innocence about him, and it's very easy to sympathize with him. But, as innocent as he is, Jarmusch's script (assumedly ad-lib heavy on stage direction) gives him plenty of chances to show he is as much unstable as he is naive.
I'm not quite sure what to make of Permanent Vacation - there were aspects like some of the dialogue and Parker's performance that I very much liked, but for a movie so slow and loose, plot-wise, it was difficult to maintain empathy. It was more of a mood piece, and, like the tone of the film, that mood was essentially apathetic unless you're from that world Jarmusch and Allie grew up in. Even if I doubt I'll ever come back to this one, I have to give it credit for making me want to learn more about Jarmusch's style and vision.