Stranger Than Paradise (1984), or Where Are We Again?

18 06 2009

In the long and winding history of cinema, there have been many people who love and embrace the counter-culture. From Dennis Hopper to Audrey Hepburn, the counter-culture has had an indelible effect on artists throughout the years. But one man above all has not only befriended the culture of the outcast and the rebel, but has embodied a sense of the outsider for as long as he has existed. That man is Jim Jarmusch, and he is the most fringe-loving man I have ever seen make a movie. Every film he has ever made depends on the strange, colorful, delirious, mysterious, atrocious, and delightful clan of outsiders that fill our nation. He makes the weird and the absurd seem right at home, as if perhaps the rest of the world is crazy, and that the real freaks are the normal ones. Today’s film, Stranger Than Paradise, is Jarmusch’s crack at comedy, a genre that works well to his strange, out-there sensibility.

It’s a comedy that kinda isn’t a comedy. It’s set in three acts, though each of them have a main vein that ties them together. It begins in NYC, where a hep cat named Willie is having his Hungarian visit him in his junky Ney York hovel. She is a bitch, and he is an asshole, but over time a delightful if not odd affection grows between the two of them. After she gets sick of the drab and desolate state of affairs in Willie’s life, she decides to leave, opting instead to stay at her aunt’s house in Cleveland. A year after she leaves, Willie and his other hipster friend Eddie take a road trip to Ohio to visit her. They find that although they have traveled a ways away from the Big Apple, the scenery doesn’t change that much when you’re broke. The end of the film focuses on Wille, Eddie, and Hungarian cousin Eva and their spur-of-the-moment trip to Florida, where a series of events may make them unbelievably rich. What does the future have in store for these too-cool-for-life hipsters and outcasts who have no direction or desire?

It doesn’t sound like it’s very funny, but trust me when I say that you will have a good time with this. It’s an incredibly funky, dirty experience, but an experience that is far from alien. Everyone feels like a bum sometimes, and while with Willie and crew it is more self-imposed, I nevertheless came out with a feeling of profound and surprising empathy. I act like a “hipster” sometimes, minus the skinny jeans and curiously large ironic sunglasses, and I am not currently in the lap of luxury, so I can feel Willie, to a certain extent. I’m not Hungarian, and I don’t profess to be a copycat “hipster” friend, so Eva and Eddie don’t really resonate with me, but perhaps they represent a part of your life that you can yourself laugh at.

Jarmusch finds rudeness and awkwardness to be EXTREMELY funny, so he fills his canvas with the most uncomfortable car rides, the rudest people, and the most assaulting dialog he can dream up. He creates a comedy of blandness, where people who are really bland pretend not to be, and in their strife they find the most interesting bits of discourse. Some of my favorite lines come from this hatred of similarities, like when Willie buys Eva a dress, and when he asks her if she likes it, she says, “I think it’s kind of ugly, don’t you?”, to which Willie dryly replies, “No; I bought it.” Classic!

I love what Jim Jarmusch does with the camera. He practices almost nothing but long takes, in which the actors have to get a whole scene in one take. The entire MOVIE is like this. It must take a toll on the actors, who probably made about $5 each from this venture. It makes for a hyper-naturalistic experience that makes me realize just how dirty reality is compared to the movies. No more evidence need be shown than at the beginning at Willie’s apartment. Nothing says “home” more like a shithole tenement that wouldn’t be out of place in a British WWII drama set during the Blitz!!!

In short, let me paraphrase the immortal Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who said, and I quote, “SON OF A BEETCH!”. This movie’s got laughs, focus on the family, road trips, and more un-placeable accents than you can shake a foreign stick at! It’s not just a slacker comedy; it’s a slacker comedy made by a great director. You really need to see this one, if not for comedic purposes than at least for aesthetic purposes! Run, don’t walk to see this comedy about beguilingly bland people driving places! I give Stranger Than Paradise 9 ugly-ass dresses out of 10. A high recommendation!

Thanks to Goregirl for recommending that one to me, and I’ll get to the rest of your recommendations soon! Until then, don’t forget that ANYBODY can send in recommendations on movies for me to review! I’ll watch anything, as evidenced by tomorrow’s review, The Running Man! It’s schlock-eriffic!

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