Stranger Than Paradise (1984) - Rotten Tomatoes

Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

Stranger Than Paradise




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Although Jim Jarmusch made his directorial debut with Permanent Vacation (1982), Stranger than Paradise (1984) marked his breakthrough as a major American filmmaker. One of the most deadpan comedies ever committed to film, Stranger than Paradise suggests a Buster Keaton film written by Samuel Beckett and Jack Kerouac and directed by Andy Warhol. Willie (John Lurie) is a small-time gambler whose distant cousin Eva (Eszter Balint) is moving to America from Eastern Europe and informs him that she'll need to stay with him for ten days. Willie isn't happy to have Eva around, but after Willie introduces her to the joys of American cigarettes and TV dinners ("You got your meat, you got your potatoes, you got your vegetables, you got your dessert and you don't have to wash the dishes -- this is how we eat in America!"), Eva steals a frozen meal and a pack of smokes from the corner store, and Willie is both surprised and impressed. His buddy Eddie (Richard Edson) happens by, and they hang out with Eva just long enough to develop a fondness for her before she moves on to Ohio, where she'll live with her Aunt Lottie (Cecillia Stark). Months later, Willie and Eddie score $600 in a poker game and decide to visit Eva in Ohio. However, it's the dead of winter, and they have nothing to do except look at the frozen surface of the lake. The three eventually head down to the tacky paradise of Miami, where Willie and Eddie try their luck with the ponies and Eva decides what to do next. Stranger than Paradise is a film that defines the notion, "It's not what you say, but how you say it." Shot in long, static takes, its style is minimalism itself, but the post-beatnik cool of John Lurie, Richard Edson and Eszter Balint somehow betrays the fact that they care about each other, and a loopy charm and subtle but potent humor seeps through the film's stark black-and-white images. Stranger than Paradise began as a short subject which was made possible by German director Wim Wenders, who gave Jarmusch a supply of film stock left over from one of his projects, and it went on to become one of the most influential movies of the 1980s, casting a wide shadow over the new generation of independent American filmmakers to come.more
Rating: R
Genre: Drama, Art House & International, Comedy
Directed By:
Written By: Jim Jarmusch
In Theaters:
On DVD: Sep 5, 2000
Criterion Collection


John Lurie
as Willie
Cecillia Stark
as Aunt Lottie
Cecilia Stark
as Aunt Lottie
as Man with Money
Tom DiCillo
as Airline Agent
Richard Boes
as Factory Worker
Rockets Redglare
as Poker Player
Harvey Perr
as Poker player
Brian J. Burchill
as Poker player
Sara Driver
as Girl with Hat
Tom Docillo
as Airline Agent
Paul Sloane
as Motel Owner
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Stranger Than Paradise

Critic Reviews for Stranger Than Paradise

All Critics (23) | Top Critics (5)

Not a lot to it, certainly, but the acting and performances combine to produce an obliquely effective study of the effect of landscape upon emotion, and the wry, dry humour is often quite delicious.

Full Review… | June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Full Review… | October 23, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

Full Review… | August 18, 2008
Top Critic

Full Review… | July 22, 2008
Top Critic

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

...a love-it-or-hate-it sort of endeavor.

Full Review… | August 18, 2014
Reel Film Reviews

Audience Reviews for Stranger Than Paradise

Considering that I have ADHD, it's a wonder that I'm able to sit through films that are slow paced and sometimes devoid of plot. I can't make it through every film like this, but if there's things going on I like in a film like this, then yeah, I can get through it. This applies to this one here.

In a way, I can sort of relate to the characters: they are bored, rootless, and don't really do much of anytihing, yet they are interesting people to watch, even if we don't really know much about them. The music, clothes, sets, and sparse conversations they have contribute to this. I found my self really hypnotized by this film.

The performances are terrific, and if they weren't, then this film really would be a failure. Everything hinges on the understated nuanced acting the three leads (two of them being non actor musicians). The carmera work is also nice. I got so caught up in just looking at stuff that I almost forgot that virtually all of the film is made up of long takes.

This is a nice little curiousity. I need to see more of Jarmusch's work before I can really comment on it, but, based on the others of his I've seen, this is not too far removed from his later stuff.

Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

WIth minimal plot and cast, Jim Jarmusch creates a masterpiece on his first time out.

Graham Jones
Graham Jones

Super Reviewer

Stranger than Paradise can come off as shallow because it doesn't really say anything. There isn't enough dialogue that conducts to psychological profiles of the characters. There isn't a particularly great challenge or crisis they must face that can tell us anything about them that we haven't already seen. No. Still, this doesn't make the film shallow, it makes it like life itself: we don't know everything about people we meet or friends we've made, but they remain of interest to us for whichever reasons, among which is, quite simply, that they are real and we can relate to them. In Stranger than Paradise, Willie, his cousin Eva -just off the plane from Hungary-, and his friend Eddie, do and say very normal things in a limited space (the entire film is composed of one-shot scenes; zero camera movement), but their moments together are so well acted and written that they reach levels of intimacy very close to real life. I suppose that's what has given this film as many lovers as detractors; how you experience it has a lot to do with your own perception of day-to-day existence.
Willie and Eddie live in New York, they want to get rich, which is why they're always gambling or something, and when they aren't excited about betting, happy about winning or sad about losing, they drink beer in silence and sit in an ennui they don't quite comprehend. A feeling of insatisfaction and desire for change envelops the entire "plot". One day, Willie's cousin Eva, from Hungary, arrives at NYC and stays with him for a few days before going to live with their aunt in Cleveland. Initially she is quite the nuisance, but her being a brand new element in an otherwise old and bleak panorama entices Willie and Eddie's interest. A year later they decide to embark on a road trip to visit her, and then decide to escape the Cleveland winter and drive with her down to Florida.
Cinematically, roadtrips always go hand in hand with change, realizations, etc. Stranger than Paradise doesn't follow exactly along those lines, although it reaches an ending between tragic and hilarious that definitely involves change. It is a very unique film in that it goes nowhere; even locations as different as New York and Florida, filmed in stark black and white, "seem the same".
The 'meaning' behind it is unclear, although I wonder, MUST it have a meaning? Can't it just be like a photograph or an entry in someone's diary, a recollection of the truth as it is, of the moment as it happened, and nothing else? With that in mind, Stranger than Paradise is engrossing. It has laugh out loud moments and angering displays of human stubborness and stupidity. It's dark, slow, and honest. Willie, Eva and Eddie are played by very talented, charismatic actors who could be out of a new wave film, if they weren't so distinctly American (except for Eva maybe), although I can't quite explain why. This movie is undoubtedly American, infused with its culture, but the filmmaking style is far from the usual in American cinema (although Jarmusch does owe Cassavetes plenty, I know he was not American but his films are landmarks of independent film made in America). Jarmusch may have progressed towards the more 'standard' indie style that predominates today, but this is testament to his capacity and originality, and my personal favorite among his works.

Elvira B

Super Reviewer

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