Two innocent people are arrested. An interesting third person, with broken English, joins them in their cell. On his idea, they decide to escape from the prison. Their journey is the rest of the movie.
As the extremely withdrawn Don Johnston is dumped by his latest woman, he receives an anonymous letter from a former lover informing him that he has a son who may be looking for him. A freelance sleuth neighbor moves Don to embark on a cross-country search for his old flames in search of answers.
A self-styled New York hipster is paid a surprise visit by his younger cousin from Budapest. From initial hostility and indifference a small degree of affection grows between the two. Along with a friend, they eventually end up visiting their aunt in the wastelands of Cleveland and then proceed to Florida where they lose all their money gambling before unwittingly gaining a fortune.Written by
J.Arnold Free <firstname.lastname@example.org> and Brian McInnis
Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies. See more »
Shadow of a crew member just before the end of the scene where Eva is throwing away the dress. See more »
[speaks indistinctly in Hungarian]
Oh, hello, Aunt Lotte.
[replies indistinctly in Hungarian throughout conversation]
Don't speak to me in Hungarian, please. No, I haven't heard from him, not for ten years. Yeah, I got your letter. Speak English, please! Yeah, my little cousin Eva. Yeah, I know, she's come - coming here and she's gonna stay overnight, when's she coming? Today? Straight from Budapest today? Ah, no. No, I never agreed to that. I can't possibly babysit for her for ...
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Stranger Than Paradise, which put filmmaker Jim Jarmusch on 'the map' in the small but superlative crop of independent filmmakers of the eighties (he was the first, then came the Coen Brothers, then Spike Lee, and then culminating in the 90's with the 'new wave' of independent filmmakers). What he presents here is a unique little treatise on youth, on the subtle and disconnected qualities that go in life when you don't have much to do. In a way it's an existentialist film without many very serious questions to deal with story or even character-wise (except until maybe the last fifteen minutes in the "Paradise" segment). Like a French New-Wave film, to which Jarmusch was heavily influenced by (i.e. the gorgeous, grainy black and white photography by Tom DiCillo), he leaves more for the audience to ponder, as they go along on their journey.
One of the things that Stranger Than Paradise has going for it is a sort of realism that, like and not-like a Wes Anderson film for example, is off-beat. Only here it is more of an urban sort of landscape and interiors that Jarmusch gives us with, along with its three principles. John Lurie as Willie is very good at having attitude when he needs it, but in reality is rather low-key in his 'hip-ness'. His cousin from Hungary pays him a visit (Eszter Balint as Eva, maybe too low-key at times, though appropriately observant of foreign territory). There is also his faithful companion Eddie, played in a great supporting tone and style by Richard Edson. The first segment of the film deals with her in New York. The second one has Eddie and Willie go to Cleveland to pay Eva a visit. Then in the third segment they go down to Florida to have some fun, only to have anything but.
In other words, those looking for a film where a lot of things 'happen' may be disappointed, or just bored. I've seen the film twice now, and on the first viewing I was a little detached from what was going on on screen, which is just little things going on with the characters, like one would see in everyday life. But on the second viewing I somehow connected more with these characters, the youth that seem to drift needlessly along. The editing of the film is also the most simplistic, though highly effective, in adding to the disconnected quality of Jarmusch's direction- no cuts during dialog, just fading to black, fading up, fading to black, fading up (Jarmusch would continue this with Down by Law and Dead Man, though not as frequent or strategic).
In fact, the whole film is rather deliberate in its style, but as the song that plays several times in the film "I Put a Spell On You" from Screamin' Jay Hawkins plays, it does work to bring a viewer in...or not. Like many in the "art-film" world, almost all of Jarmusch's films are either liked or not, and I think that's appropriate for his stories, which often deal with low-key characters dealing with unusual but either realistic or metaphorical situations. One thing I can say for certain, much like the French new-wave films inspired by it, it's imitated, but not equaled in its form.
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