A few months ago I was at a dinner and seated next to a couple that were deeply devoted Jim Jarmusch fans. When I told them I hadn't seen any of his films, they very enthusiastically recommended some.* I am always looking for recommendations from people, and so when I got home, I went on Netflix and added "Stranger than Paradise" to my queue. I was optimistic. It was described as a "minimalist comedy" and Netflix guessed that I would like it 4.5 stars worth. 4.5 stars?!? Awesome, let's do this thing! New favorite movie right here.
When I finally got around to watching it recently, I didn't love it. I don't think my not liking this film had much to do with what I call "The Adventureland Syndrome" of bloated expectations leading to utter disappointment. I do think it had to do with the fact that this movie is not my brand of fun. I returned the red envelope and promptly gave it a rating of one star - a far cry from the 4.5 they had guessed for me. But, even though I really didn't like it, ("minimalist comedy," seriously? I saw the minimalism, but where was the comedy?) I did think about the movie for a little while after watching it. Sadly, not it a good way. I kept thinking how it was a mutilated rehashing of the super classic Godard film, "Bande à part."
In "Bande à part," two guys with a desire to live like the American gangster movies they love, enlist attractive, charming, and a major girl crush of mine, Anna Karina, to help them commit a robbery. In "Stranger than Paradise" two hipster petty criminals drive to Florida with one of their cousins a very un-charming girl and try to win at the races. (The only actor in this film who has any craft or humanity is Richard Edsen, you know the garage attendant from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off.") Two films with awkward love triangles, both shot in black and white by choice, and one clearly influencing the other.
My question to Jim Jarmusch is, when you have such a tremendous starting off point of inspiration, how do you end up with "Stranger than Paradise?" (A title that is absolutely truthful.) Let's talk dancing scenes alone.
Bande à Part - Dance Scene from on Vimeo.
What Jarmusch did:
Another (more successful) scene influenced by Godard's film. (Tarantino named his production company A Band Apart, which produced Pulp Fiction.**)
Jarmusch chose the song super well. (It goes without saying that Tarantino chose one of the greatest songs ever.) And truth be told, I think if the actors were more charismatic/talented the movie could have worked for me, but as it stands, the 89 minutes I spent watching the film felt like 4 hours. Unless someone I know and totally trust tells me of another Jarmusch film to try, I don't think I'll willingly watch anything else.
*I did point them in the direction of his appearance on Bored to Death which was pretty funny.
**"A thirty minute film about a group of friends who like cheeseburgers, dancing and the bible." Community = hilar and abbrevs*** = my fave.
***Also Happy Endings is hilarious.