Jan 20, 2014

Sundance Review: "Only Lovers Left Alive" Lacks a Reason to Like It

Left to right: Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddelston
The latest from director Jim Jarmusch, Only Lovers Left Alive, opens on a dreamy night sky, spinning similarly to a vinyl record. This is followed by a shot of Tom Hiddelston and Tilda Swinton lying on separate beds, staring into the still spinning camera. This dizzying technique is the introduction to a world of vampires and romance. It serves as hypnosis to the audience, but unfortunately for the characters as well.

As sleek and sexy as Adam (Hiddelston) and Eve (Swinton) look as the main couple, it feels like that is the extent of their appeal. The story lacks any urgency or purpose for its characters and instead revels in the two exchanging a lexicon of references ranging from astronomy to where Jack White lived in Detroit. They are well cultured, but they don’t feel like they do anything productive with it. They travel to various landscapes, but none feel distinguished. Their lives feel aimless and the film’s central conflict feels so low in consequences that it makes the whole experience moot.
The film tries to pass off its lack of action with Adam’s music career that involves playing distorted guitars and creating “funeral music.” It serves as the film’s soundtrack and is often irritating to listen to. He seems miserable and unmotivated in frustrating ways. Eve is less an issue, as Swinton brings freaky charm to the chic cool of her demeanor. Even then, it feels surface level and serves more as a gimmick to make the film feel important.
It updates the vampire style with rock records and smug pop culture references. Despite several jokes sounding like humorous take downs of familiar cultural events, they also recall better uses of the audience’s time. There is a sense of unnecessary entitlement in these characters that asks for empathy, but never explains why. The addition of Ada (Mia Wasikowska) as Eve’s younger, bubblier sister adds fleeting joy to a film obsessed with the morose nature of being miserable and a failure. By the end, nothing happens and at two hours, that’s a long time to wait around for something that never gave a reason to like these lovers.
Despite some comedic moments, the film has little charm beyond the kitschy idea that this reinvents the vampire and that Tilda Swinton pulls off weird wardrobes better than anyone else. It is smug and proud of it. With subplots that go nowhere and no compelling threat to the characters, it almost serves no purpose other than to look cool. It attempts to hypnotize the audience at the beginning, but all it does is begin a two hour headache of self-indulgence.

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