What a great film! Loved it, even before I saw it, watching it's quirky trailer at the "art house" theater near Lincoln Center, where the film eventually played for well over a year in the 80s. Seeing it again today, it felt just as fresh, funny, familiar, endearing, charming and goofy as the first time I saw it so many years ago. Boring? Heck no!!! Different? You Bet!!! BUT it also feels more like real life than all the reality shows on TV these days!
Why I love this film:
1. The film maker obviously loves the character's he's created -- from Willie's newly Americanized con-man wannabe, who has very real affection and love for his cousin, to his goof-ball best pal, Eddie, who has a heart of gold, to the shy, but ultimately sincere and down- to-earth Eva, mature and self-aware. They form a strong bond, simply by being with each other, simply by hanging out, simply out of human desire to connect with each other -- to not be alone. And the audience also shares, identifies with, and cares about the characters with all their idiosyncrasies and quirkiness. We are captivated, and in this sense, the movie, often described as being "avant-garde" or "minimalist", has a surprisingly old-fashioned feel to it!
2. Aunt Lotte! Those of us who are 2nd Generation Americans, with grand parents who got off the boat in Ellis Island, sure remember Grand Parents who were just like Aunt Lotte. From the accent, to the comfortable, dowdy furnishings in her home, to the mountains of food offered to EVERYBODY who visits their homes -- plates of kielbasa, and sausage, and stuffed cabbage and the glorious Chicken Paprikash, to the heated temper they can possess, to the knowledge of the appropriate American cuss words. The character of Aunt Lotte is beyond real!! And consequently, hilarious.
3. The look and feel of the older, more run-down, nondescript sections of NYC at the height of it's grimy, crummy glory, in the late 70s, early 80s with all the crime, and garbage, before the encroaching Disneyfication, gentrification, and sanitization of Manhattan! Of course it's better now, but this film shows that under-belly side of urban/non-touristy NYC, with pure realism.
4. The look and feel of the older, more run-down, nondescript sections of freezing cold Cleveland in the midst of a good old fashioned snowy winter, with the bitter cold winds blowing off of Lake Erie. This, folks, is Cleveland in January!
5. The look and feel of the older, more run-down, nondescript sections of Florida with the endless budget motels, lining the "Yellow Brick Roads" to Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. As beautiful as much of Florida is, lots and lots of Florida -- looks like this!
6. Priceless scenes like Willie's sincere analysis and description of American TV dinners, to the silly Poker Game, where Willie and Eddie's rather awkward and juvenile "cheat" is exposed, to the hilarious Kung Fu Film seen by our 3 protagonists plus Eva's boyfriend wannabe. Only "hearing" the film, with the camera trained on the audience, we can remember every single cheap, Bruce Lee rip-off we watched in the budget theaters in the 70s and 80s, complete with endless "action" and crappy music.
7. The structure of the the film from the small individual "blackouts" -- simple, seemingly fragmentary, but actually very carefully calibrated scenes which serve as glimpses and sort of cinema-like "selfies" without the traditional arc of a cinematic "scene". Just as effective -- just as revelatory, and actually nice and succinct.
8. There is even an old-fashioned sense of a story, with very real suspense created in the final part of the film in Florida. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat the last 10 or 15 minutes wondering how this was all going to resolve itself. And here's the spoiler: It does resolve itself and it doesn't at the same time! Cool! i was fascinated how the movie's structure is so carefully worked out! Throughout most of the movie, we have 3 characters tied at the hip together, UNTIL the very last scene when all 3 go in very separate ways, though of course not by choice. This is a film that consequently makes you think as well!! Amazing!!
9. The genuinely satisfying humor -- sometimes even laugh-out-loud (Aunt Lottie; Eva's disposal of Willie's gift to her that he was so proud of; that Kung Fu movie) It was all ultimately good-natured, and even though the film ends a bit wistfully, the overall feeling is one of having enjoyed getting to know the characters, sharing their experiences, and laughing -- well not with them, but certainly at them!
10. Screamin' Jay Hawkins and his rendition of "I Put a Spell on You" MASTERFUL of Jim Jarmusch to include this raucous, hokey, wild tune as the leitmotif of the film! Jim Jarmusch puts a spell on us with this truly remarkable and justly lauded film!! It's both a time capsule of America in the later 20th century, and an enduring tale and character study for the ages!
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