The rating scale for a Jim Jarmusch movie bottoms out at “completely tedious” [Limits of Control, I’m looking at you] and maximizes at “consistently intriguing” [Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, I’m looking at you.] Most of his movies fall somewhere in between, with parts that work extremely well and other parts that you have to slog through. It isn’t just that he’s uneven as a director, it’s that he seems to be more interested in atmosphere than plot, and that can lead to some really leaden movies if the atmosphere isn’t firing on all cylinders.
I’m pleased to report that Only Lovers Left Alive is towards the top of the scale. It’s too meandering to be perfect, but Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton bring enough humor to their performance to keep things lively even in the parts that don’t seem to be leading anywhere. And if worse comes to worse, they look cool in their meticulously sculpted hairdos, so it’s always pretty to look at.
The casting really saves this movie, honestly, because in general movies about people that are bored are boring; bored people are for the most part people with no imagination and no gumption, and who cares about such bland people? But Hiddleston and Swinton both know how to evoke bygone days in subtle ways, and they seem less bored than tired. That might not sound like much but it actually is a huge deal, because the air of mystery they bring to the story is suggestive in a way that a movie about a person who is just dull couldn’t be. Even when Hiddleston is being his mopiest there’s an implied promise that he could become invigorated again which gives you the sort of hope that you aren’t likely to get in a Sofia Coppola movie.
Everyone in the cast has done work that I found more compelling, but this was mostly genial with enough bright spots and beautiful shots to make this a worthwhile use of my time.