Paterson (2016) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for some language
Running Time: 118 min.
Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Barry Shabaka Henley, Rizwan Manji
Small role: Method Man, Kara Hayward, Jared
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Screenplay: Jim Jarmusch
Review published February 4, 2017
Adam Driver (Silence, Midnight Special) stars as Paterson, who coincidentally shares the same name as his town in New Jersey. We follow Paterson over the course of a week in his life, his routines, his conversations with his aspiring baker/singer girlfriend Laura (Farahani, Exodus: Gods and Kings), the conversations he eavesdrops on with the passengers in the city bus he drives, and his interactions with the inhabitants of the local bar he goes to when he takes his English Bulldog Marvin for a walk at night. We also get to follow along as he writes poems every day in his writing notebook, inspired by the writings of famed Paterson poet William Carlos Williams.
In Paterson, we follow a group of creative types struggling to balance their own real-life ruts with the desire to do something more fulfilling and inspirational in their lives. Paterson is driven to write poems, mostly about the banal existence he sees around him (such as the Ohio Blue Tip matches they've switched to using) while navigating his routine existence. However, even the creative process has become a routine checkbox, perhaps feeling that itch for self-expression, but not the feeling that one's work will ever be appreciated by another audience.
Driver's performance remains subdued, inhabiting his reserved and taciturn character of Paterson as a man who finds it difficult to express himself beyond, "I'm OK," or "It's OK," until he puts his pen to paper, and even then he struggles to find something substantial to say. Meanwhile, Laura is all about outward expression, but only is shown to have Paterson to share her exuberance with, peppering the apartment with her black-and-white pattern creations, feeding him her baked goods, then regaling him with simple songs on her guitar. They aren't as interested in what form that their partner is utilizing for artistic expression, yet they do encourage them to fulfill themselves in the way that moves them in the moment. She wants to share her zest for creativity with Paterson and the world, even if she isn't as experienced, while Paterson never mentions his poetry to outsiders, and doesn't really share it with Laura, internalizing the entire process as merely an exercise. That he doesn't even choose to own a smart phone shows how much he wishes to be disconnected from the world he has created for himself over many years.
As he has all of his career, writer-director Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive, Broken Flowers) has crafted a wholly unique film, full of rich and quirky characters who seemingly inhabit a moody world that is both low-key in mundaneness as well as elevated by scenes and characters who reside in the realm of the bizarre. The slowness and stillness that is Jarmusch's style are there, working well to establish the quiet and somewhat lonely lives of the artist, who struggle to find meaning amid an existence they derive little from. And, of course, there is the very dry sense of humor we've come to know and love from the director, with plenty of amusing characterizations and awkward (but always interesting) conversations that say so much about each person in a very short amount of time.
To say a Jarmusch film is wonderful for all of its little touches seems a given for anyone who has seen at least a handful of them, and there are a plethora of such scenes sprinkled throughout Paterson. Just hearing the tidbits about the history of the town, along with the love for those artists who've made a career for themselves beyond the city (Lou Costello gets a loving nod), gives the film a defined and home-spun flavor that makes every scene something unlike any other scene you may have seen in any other movie. And then there are the cameo, as Jarmusch continues to give love to the Wu-Tang Clan with a Method Man appearance, and Moonrise Kingdom fans will love seeing its stars Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman perform in a scene together as bus riders.
Fans of Jarmusch will no doubt relish every scene of Paterson, and it should also strike home for those who enjoy the acting of Adam Driver, who delivers a very nice and understated performance that is both likeable and fascinating. Those who aren't as familiar with the offbeat vibe of Jarmusch, and independent films in general, may struggle to find a rooting interest in a film that is never obvious about its intent and meaning, which will make this a very long two hours for those expecting constant laughs and well-defined story milestones on which to cling. Nevertheless, for those who seek to find a reflective meaning in observational works, Paterson should provide the fuel necessary for all of us who also struggle to find ways to channel their desire to express, persevering through the process even if, ultimately, we only do it to enrich our individual selves.
©2017 Vince Leo