Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

The theme for the month of June was Jim Jarmusch—Jarmusch is on the loosh! as we would come to say—as a build up to the disastrous new film The Dead Don’t Die. I mean, I think we can say it’s disastrous, being critically meh’ed and publicly reviled, and raking in about $5M with a cast that includes Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton and on and on. I’m guessing the budget was in the 8 digits, though at this point I can’t imagine a responsible person giving Jarmusch $10M to make a movie unless he was just a big fan and $10M was a trifle. I mean, I could see myself doing it if I had a $200M warchest, for example. (But not if I had to answer to stockholders.)

Or don't.
THRILL! To a couple of young people watching TV at night.

I’m not saying he’s bad, mind you. The Boy and I enjoyed all four of the films shown (which were all but his generally-regarded-as-best Night on Earth). N.B., however, that it was just the two of us—The Flower needs more motivation these days to stay out late—and we wouldn’t recommend the films for everyone. Stranger In Paradise was the weakest of the four films, one of the two “triptychs” (along with Mystery Train) though in this case tied together with the same three characters.

Part 1: Hungarian Eva stops by Cousin Willie’s (John Lurie, who did the music) place in New York City on her way to their aunt in Cleveland. Auntie has a hospital stay, however, and Eva stays with Willie for a week or two, smoking cigarettes and shoplifting. Though Willie is outright hostile at first, the very cute Eva (Eszter Ballint) wins him over, and especially wins over his pal Eddie. (Eddie is played by the very distinctive looking Richard Edson, who drove me nuts the whole movie because I recognized him from somewhere—at least, as I later learned, as the parking attendant in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.)

Something pop-new-techno-wave-romantic. I don't know music.
Very cute. Very ’80s. Looks like an album cover, doesn’t it?

Part 2: Willie and Eddie fresh of a hot gambling win (in which they cheated, natch) decide to go up to Cleveland and see Eva. They bum around Cleveland a while while the mildly disaffected Eva mildly rebuffs mild romantic overtures made by mild Cleveland co-workers from her fast-food job. Finally, they all get the idea to get out of the north for the Winter and head to Miami.

Part 3: The three make their way to a small Florida town only to have a bad day at the dog races and lose all their money. Eva, feeling abandoned because the boys leave her behind (she may not be entirely legal) hangs out on the local boardwalk wearing a dumb tourist hat. That hat coincidentally is the key sign for a drug drop off, and she ends up with a big wad of cash. She decides to go to Europe with it. When the boys return—they’ve had a good day gambling then and are celebrating—they realize she’s gone to the airport and go to get her before she flies off. Because it’s way pre-9/11, Willie actually gets on the plane to Budapest to pull her off. But Eva wanted to go to Europe, or basically anywhere but Budapest—and one wonders how plausible it is that this tiny airport has a direct flight to Budapest, but also only one flight a day to Paris—so she ends up back at the motel while Willie, presumably, ends up on his way to Budapest.

The end.

Stills.
I don’t think this is in the movie.

This is the very definition of low-key. It reminded me a lot of a Kevin Smith movie, in the way that it was shot black-and-white with people who seem like new actors or barely actors at all (first acting role for Edson, only acting role for Cecilia Stark, an actual Hungarian immigrant), and low-key. Where it’s different is that it lacks the verbal humor of Smith’s movies, but also feels more like a real movie overall. Yes, it’s shot in black-and-white, but lovingly so with tremendous attention to the backdrop. The music is moody, original, one-man-band kind of stuff, which is very characteristic of Jarmusch. (Also, the one-man-band is John Lurie, who stars here and provided the music for three of the four films we saw.)

And, as mentioned, it’s very low key. There are laughs but one must be patient. If you can’t enjoy the experience between the laughs, you probably won’t enjoy the whole thing. The later films are a more developed thematically and narrative-wise, but none of the four were ever in danger of delivering a message (kind of refreshing, really) and were more “series of things that happened” than anything tightly plotted.

Not for everyone, but strong enough to sell us on the next week’s film, Down By Law, which would turn out to be our favorite.

Movie trickery!
Look! Same shot different background! But if you’re getting the idea that there’s a lot of standing around cars and inside dingy little rooms, you have the right idea.

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