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Review: 'Only Lovers Left Alive' is a rare positive relationship movie (with vampires)

Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive" stars Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as vampire lovers who would rather hang then dive into necks.

Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play a longtime vampire couple in Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play a longtime vampire couple in Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive."
Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

'Only Lovers Left Alive'
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston
Rating: R
5 (out of 5) Globes

You’re not a real filmmaker until you do your own twist on the vampire movie. Jim Jarmusch’s contribution is, inevitably, not remotely a horror film, a couple drained humans aside. It’s minimally goth, despite one bloodsucker — Tom Hiddleston’s Adam — being a brooding, long-haired musician who prefers to stay indoors, mope and seriously consider suicide by wooden bullet. It’s as much a hangout movie as it is a film about death, as well as relationships. In fact, it’s a great relationship movie.

The 500-year-old Adam is in a committed union with a much older woman: Eve (Tilda Swinton), who is 5,000. As the film starts, they’re not living together. They’re not separated; they’re just taking some needed solitary time, which means he’s in a shady part of Detroit and she’s in walkable, labyrinthine Tangier. When they decide to reconvene at his place, the story doesn’t kick into another gear. A film that was about one guy killing time by himself, listening to records, becomes a movie about two people killing time together, listening to records, as well as talking and making out.

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The arrival of Eve’s younger, reckless party girl sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), threatens to destroy the bubble they’ve created, as well as the film. She doesn’t, in part because a Jarmusch film can never totally give itself over to narrative. Ava represents the frivolous youth that Adam, and to an extent Eve, deplores: the kind that whimsically macks on one of Adam’s oblivious connections (Anton Yelchin) just because he’s adorable.

But the majority of “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a deep hang. There are jokes, many of the nudgey we-couldn’t-resist type: Adam’s walls are lined with pictures of old friends, including Oscar Wilde and (a nice touch) Rodney Dangerfield, while Eve has a hookup for fresh blood via Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) — yes, the Elizabethan playwright, still puttering along. (As with most films where vampires are our likable heroes, these ones prefer not to dive into necks.) Jarmusch draws a line, though: He may have called his leads Adam and Eve, but he doesn’t belabor or even call attention to the gag.

But it’s more about being that rare, wholly positive look at coupledom. We don’t know how they met, or when they will split. They’re an odd fit: He’s a moody brooder, while she’s full of life without being an annoying live wire. But when they get together, they meet somewhere in the middle without fundamentally changing who they are. They’re as comfortable together as they are alone. (Probably needless to say, but Swinton and Hiddleston are both lived-in and terrific. Swinton, especially, has rarely been this relaxed, which is saying something.) This is a film that lives at night with people who enjoy it, the camera prowling homes powered by dim lights and records, and streets that have a calming lack of people. It only makes sense that the warmest film Jarmusch has ever made is about cold-blooded killers.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
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