By Bradley Lane
Jim Jarmusch has made a name for himself in the arthouse film community over the past 40 years, by consistently producing quality reflections on American culture, relationships between different types of people and the banality of day-to-day life. In his last studio effort, he somberly ruminated on the day-to-day beauty found in a bus driver’s daily routine in Paterson. However, in his newest outing, he reflects on those same themes with a more depressive conclusion, with a much funnier delivery.
The Dead Don’t Die is a massive ensemble cast of nearly every actor Jarmusch has previously worked with and some; including, but not limited to, Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover and Selena Gomez. It focuses on the citizens of the small town of Centerville, as the zombie apocalypse unfolds around them. Each group of people decide how to handle these trying times to varying degrees of success, as Jarmusch deploys biting satire aimed at consumer culture, filmmaking tropes and how unsettlingly addicted to our own daily routines we all are.
First and foremost, The Dead Don’t Die is hilarious. My theater was filled with gut-busting laughter from start to finish. Specifically, Adam Driver and Bill Murray are comedic gold whenever they share screen time. Driver’s comedic timing for his off-handedly hilarious comments sent the crowd howling with laughter time after time. Their humor is so effortless and natural you cannot help but fall in love with their inept but well-meaning characters.
Jarmusch also uses zombies not just to pay tribute to the genre, but also make comments about the rampant consumerism in American culture. The zombies are not-so-subtly coded as mindless consumers focused only on their favorite candy brand, eating human flesh, or even finding free Wi-Fi. This, of course, is in homage to George Romero’s original zombie flick, Night of the Living Dead. A film that used zombies to represent failings of a culture obsessed with products.
The Dead Don’t Die also relentlessly mocks modern film tropes. Characters and television newscasters give the same expository dialogue over and over to mock writers who don’t trust audiences to keep up with the story. The film makes a hilarious reoccurring gag of pervasive promotional song tie-in (by Sturgill Simpson) and even pokes fun at the director’s favoritism of his own cast. It is supremely self-aware, but never in a way that feels cheap or overdone. Jarmusch cleverly mocks our daily life by interrupting his characters’ lives with untold disaster, yet all anyone can think about is how best to maintain the status quo. It’s a timely observation about a world saturated by 24/7 media coverage of constant natural disasters, near monthly mass shootings and a tumultuous and divisive presidency.
The Dead Don’t Die is both an audience pleaser and a smartly constructed film by an auteur with a meaningful, albeit, sad outlook on modern America. – 4/5 stars