Review: Permanent Vacation (1980)

permanent vacation

Once an outcast, always an outcast. That’s a saying, right?

Written By: Jim Jarmusch
Directed By: Jim Jarmusch

Chris Parker is the perfect choice to play Allie. He’s gangly and tall, a bean pole if ever there was one. His voice is full on nasal and sounds like it’s coming through a tiny tunnel. There’s no way that Allie can be anything but an outcast as portrayed by Mr. Parker. He doesn’t even bother fitting in most of the time. He’s going through the motions, while convincing himself that he isn’t going through the motions. Awkwardness is the style of Allie, and it’s a style he completely owns.

Jim Jarmusch uses his debut film to establish his style right away. I won’t hide the fact that I am a fan of Mr. Jarmusch. I’ve enjoyed every film I’ve seen from him and the more I see the more I grow to love him as a filmmaker. Permanent Vacation is a Jim Jarmusch film through and through, and that’s not something that can always be said about a director’s first film. The slow, almost melancholic tone of the film establishes right away that this is not a Hollywood version of ennui we will be watching. Allie isn’t going to go from point A to point Z, because life doesn’t work that way. His journey will zig and zag, and there’s a chance it won’t always makes sense. But, Mr. Jarmusch knows what he’s doing at every turn, because Allie represents a very specific type of person from a very specific time.

Allie is the 1980s counter culture American male. He doesn’t fit in anywhere, but he doesn’t rebel against that. Allie may, at times, try to fit in, but he never truly makes a concerted effort to deny he is an outcast. Even when he comes across people he should share common ground with, the sax player and the old war vet talking about music for example, he doesn’t. He walks away from those men rather quickly because he can’t relate to them on any level. It’s only near the end of the film when he meets another disenfranchised 1980s male that he has a conversation where he is a part of the discussion. That’s why Allie is on a self proclaimed permanent vacation, he’s walking through life always in a different and foreign place because he is always the outsider.

The narration is the one blemish in Permanent Vacation. It’s not the worst narration I’ve ever heard, but especially at the end of the film it doles out the theme of the film in a heavy handed manner. The visuals, style, and acting of Mr. Parker had evoked the theme well enough for me. I understood what was going on, I didn’t need narration at the end to very neatly tie everything up for me. Narration is something that Mr. Jarmusch would return to, but in his future films he has a much better understanding of how to enhance his film through narration rather than to detract because of narration.

What a surprise, I ended up really liking a film from Jim Jarmusch. I’m a sucker for the guy, what can I say. Permanent Vacation is a moody slice of life that engages male ennui in a way that feels fresh and unexplored. In his first film Mr. Jarmusch establishes what he’s all about and challenges the viewer to come along for the ride. I’m on board, and I’m looking forward to all the stops Mr. Jarmusch plans on making throughout his career.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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