Although Jim Jarmusch made his directorial debut with Permanent Vacation (1982), Stranger than Paradise (1984) marked his breakthrough as a major American filmmaker. One of the most deadpan comedies ever committed to film, Stranger than Paradise suggests a Buster Keaton film written by Samuel Beckett and Jack Kerouac and directed by Andy Warhol. Willie (John Lurie) is a small-time gambler whose distant cousin Eva (Eszter Balint) is moving to America from Eastern Europe and informs him that she'll need to stay with him for ten days. Willie isn't happy to have Eva around, but after Willie introduces her to the joys of American cigarettes and TV dinners ("You got your meat, you got your potatoes, you got your vegetables, you got your dessert and you don't have to wash the dishes -- this is how we eat in America!"), Eva steals a frozen meal and a pack of smokes from the corner store, and Willie is both surprised and impressed. His buddy Eddie (Richard Edson) happens by, and they hang out with Eva just long enough to develop a fondness for her before she moves on to Ohio, where she'll live with her Aunt Lottie (Cecillia Stark). Months later, Willie and Eddie score $600 in a poker game and decide to visit Eva in Ohio. However, it's the dead of winter, and they have nothing to do except look at the frozen surface of the lake. The three eventually head down to the tacky paradise of Miami, where Willie and Eddie try their luck with the ponies and Eva decides what to do next. Stranger than Paradise is a film that defines the notion, "It's not what you say, but how you say it." Shot in long, static takes, its style is minimalism itself, but the post-beatnik cool of John Lurie, Richard Edson and Eszter Balint somehow betrays the fact that they care about each other, and a loopy charm and subtle but potent humor seeps through the film's stark black-and-white images. Stranger than Paradise began as a short subject which was made possible by German director Wim Wenders, who gave Jarmusch a supply of film stock left over from one of his projects, and it went on to become one of the most influential movies of the 1980s, casting a wide shadow over the new generation of independent American filmmakers to come.
by Mark Deming synopsis