REVIEW: Only Lovers Left Alive

18 08 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive posterCannes Film Festival – Official Selection, 2013

I’ve listened to countless interviews with James Gray about his film “The Immigrant,” so many that I can’t pair a quote with a particular interview and thus cite it correctly.  But in one talk about filmmaking in general, Gray talked about how great directors are effective at conveying mood.

I haven’t seen enough of Jim Jarmusch’s filmography to make a definitive statement about whether or not he is a great director.  But I have seen his latest film, “Only Lovers Left Alive,” and I can say that simply because it has control of mood does not make it a great film.  Jarmusch favors ambiance over story development to a fault in his film that probably had its proper title, “Modern Vampires of the City,” stolen by Vampire Weekend’s latest album.

The film comes from an original screenplay by the director, and it certainly earns points for being clever.  “Only Lovers Left Alive” runs in a different direction with the current vampire fad,  portraying the bloodsuckers as hipsters hiding out in the latest haunt.  When we catch up with Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton’s immortal lovers, wittily named Adam and Eve, he has shacked up in Detroit while she’s hanging in Tangiers.

It’s undeniably entertaining to get immersed in the distinctive universe Jarmusch has them inhabiting.  Watching them figure out how to get the blood they need to survive is cheeky fun, as is the creative ways they choose to consume it.  Not to mention, their demeanors and attitudes are so unexpected that it can’t help but be attention-grabbing.  (Hearing them name-drop some of their famous friends makes for a good chuckle, too.)

Only Lovers Left Alive

At a certain point, though, simply crafting a world isn’t quite enough.  “Only Lovers Left Alive” lingers far too long in the novelty of its world, and it hurts the film as a whole.  Jarmusch has reason to be proud of his creation, but it means little if nothing actually happens in it.

Sure, there are plot points that drive the film forward, yet they don’t really start to occur until about an hour into the proceedings.  By that point, I was already off of Jarmusch’s wavelength.  It was Cannes; it was late; I was tired … and I might have dozed off for a moment in the bloated exposition.  But when I woke up, I hardly felt like I had missed a thing.

“Only Lovers Left Alive” is certainly not a bad film, yet it never really assembles the necessary pieces to be a good film, either.  The iconic Swinton is great, as usual, as a lovelorn vampire.  Mia Wasikowska also delights as her erratic younger sister, Ava, whose arrivals spurs the movie to actually move towards some sort of conclusion.

It’s a shame that their characters simply are and don’t really get to do, however.  Jarmusch’s obsession with setting an amusingly austere tone for “Only Lovers Left Alive” ultimately leaves little room for Adam and Eve to go on any sort of a journey.  They feel almost like a necessary evil for Jarmusch to tell us about this cool alternate fantasy world he thought up one day.  C+2stars

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5 responses

18 08 2014
The Pumpkin's Head (Betty J. Ogburn)

…Certainly, Tom Hiddleston MUST be a plus, right???…

18 08 2014
Marshall

Eh, he’s not a minus, but he’s just kind of mopey. Then again, I suppose that could be a commentary on Edward Cullen?

18 08 2014
The Pumpkin's Head (Betty J. Ogburn)

…Please–do NOT mention the name of that series of “novels” in front of me, haha!!…

19 08 2014
rollonthemovies

Oh, I so agree with this. There is only so much clever dialogue you can keep me entertained with if it goes nowhere.

20 08 2014
Marshall

So glad I’m not the only one! Most people seemed to let its listlessness slide on the novelty of its concept.

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