Stranger than Paradise (1984)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Road Movie, Buddy Film  |   Run Time - 95 min.  |   Countries - Germany , United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Karl Williams

An exercise in minimalist hipster cool that entertains less because of its nothing-happens plot than its comic, avant-garde style, Stranger Than Paradise (1984) also ranks high on the list of the late twentieth century's most influential and historically important films, representing an early example of the low-budget independent wave that would dominate the cinematic marketplace a decade later. The second film from New York director Jim Jarmusch, Stranger Than Paradise was first produced as a short called The New World with stock that was donated to the filmmaker by Wim Wenders, one of his two mentors (the other was Nicholas Ray). After touring the festival circuit, the short garnered enough attention for Jarmusch to adapt it into a feature, using The New World as the first of clearly delineated thirds. At times playing like a series of pointless vignettes, Stranger Than Paradise has certain generational themes in common with later indie films like Slacker (1991) in its preoccupation with the disaffection, aimlessness and inability to communicate of its central characters. Defying the hard-working immigrant stereotype, the Hungarian-born New Yorker Willie (John Lurie) is a gambler who is selfishly does not want to put up his teenaged cousin Eva (Eszter Balint) when she arrives in America from Budapest on a brief stopover before continuing on to her new home with an aunt in Ohio. Willie grows to admire Eva, however, when she commits petty theft. Together with Willie's pal Eddie (Richard Edson), also a hustler, the three seem more preoccupied with what to avoid (a boring winter in Ohio on the shore of Lake Erie where they go to visit Eva a year later) than with where they're going (once they flee Ohio for sunnier, more exotic Miami, life doesn't really change for them: Eva can't decide what to do there and the two men lose all their hard-earning poker winnings betting at the track). Each character harbors a desire to arrive in a paradise of sorts (for Eva, it is the America that spawned the rebellious Screamin' Jay Hawkins, for Eddie it is where Eva is living in Ohio and for Willie it is Florida). In the circular world of Stranger Than Paradise, however, they each end up frustrated, confused and ultimately, back where they began. Jarmusch's use of long takes and slow fades to black punctuates the humor of his characters' boredom, ennui, and frustration; his trademark usage of parallel tracking shots makes its first appearance here. In 1984, Stranger Than Paradise was named Best Picture by the National Society of Film Critics and was awarded the prize for new filmmakers, the Camera d'Or, at Cannes.