Sundance '14 Review: ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE

Written and Directed by Jim Jarmusch

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, John Hurt,* and Jeffrey Wright

Synopsis: Set against the desolation of the once-vibrant cities of Detroit and Tangier, an underground musician, deeply depressed by the direction the world is going, reunites with his resilient and enigmatic lover. [P.S. They are also vampires. –ed.]

Only Lovers Left Alive has more story than plot, and more mood than story. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are vampires living in Detroit and Tangier, respectively. At the start of the movie, they move separately but synchronously through their lives. Hiddleston is tired of being alive–or undead. Swinton goes to Detroit, and they spend awhile in blissful domesticity as reunited husband and wife. Then Swinton’s younger sister shows up, and all the plotty things happen in quick succession.

But the parts I liked best weren’t the plotty bits. They were the scenes with just Swinton and Hiddleston–exploring the city, rediscovering each other, and examining their passions (that’s not a euphemism). The central relationship is so real and alive you can practically feel it breathe. You absolutely believe that they have been married for 150 plus years. They take visceral delight in each other and know each other’s hidden fears and desires in an intimate way that only comes with long marriage. When they are facetiming and Hiddleston talks about his ennui, Swinton knows he is asking her to come to Detroit without him ever saying the words, or even hinting at them. 

Mia Wasikowska is perfectly bratty as Swinton’s sister, Ava. She is loathed by Hiddleston, but doted upon by Swinton in that way much older sisters have. I am with Hiddleston on this one. I couldn’t wait for her to get off my screen, and I hated her for the way she disrupted their lives. Anton Yelchin is… strange as Hiddleston’s very human unofficial assistant. In the early scenes between the two of them, I thought the movie might be a seventies period piece. (It is not.) But Yelchin is so far out and groovy, with a kind of open naivety, that he didn’t seem entirely of our time. Jeffrey Wright appears in two scenes, and is fantastic in each, but I was expecting him to play a slightly larger role in things.

Jarmusch’s choice of setting–mostly the wasteland of Detroit, and at night–combine with Hiddleston’s ennui to give the movie a very elegiac tone. It’s a beautiful film, all orange light and dark shadow. It does lag at times, but it never bores. The costumes are fantastic. Swinton only wears one outfit the entire movie, but it is maybe the coolest ensemble in film history. I talked to another festival-goer who is already shopping for leather gloves.

Only Lovers Left Alive keeps getting pushed further down my list of Sundance favorites, but I liked watching it. And if I ever want to feel like life is worthwhile even though the world is going to shit, I’ll pop this one in the Blu-ray player.

*Personal note: Hurt plays Christopher Marlowe, a vampire. It is a running gag throughout the movie that he wrote all the works of William Shakespeare. Just so you know, that is total bullshit for 5000 reasons, and it cheapens the movie just a touch. For me, at least. I am a rabid Stratfordian.

Chances You’ll See It in Theaters:
One hundred percent. The film will be released in April 2014.

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