Paterson – Film Review (2016)


Adam discusses the newest film from writer/director Jim Jarmusch: Paterson, starring Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ Adam Driver.

Using repetition of action, imagery and editing, writer/director Jim Jarmusch has created a quietly funny, humane and emotionally satisfying cinematic venture in Paterson.  The film recalls the best work of Hal Ashby and the character-based filmmaking of the 1970s.  Jarmusch has created a tone poem to the beauty of the mundane and the working class.  The film is anchored by a willing and very able Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as a bus driver named Paterson living in the town of Paterson, New Jersey.  Actor and director are so in-sync with one another, audiences will be hard pressed to find a more fruitful partnership between actor and director this year.

Episodic in nature, the film follows a week in the life of Paterson, his wife, Laura (Goldshifteh Farahani), and their dog, Marv (Nellie).  Those expecting fireworks or histrionics will be sadly disappointed by the charming meditative tone the film takes.  Jarmusch has more on his mind than just simple dramatic exploitation.  There is beauty in watching Paterson as his day unfolds.  He wakes, eats breakfast, goes to work, comes home, walks Marv and goes in a bar for a single glass of beer.    Jarmusch allows for these moments to unfold naturally.  Driver is magnetic, even in the midst of a daily routine; he finds grace notes or small moments to let us into Paterson’s mind.

Few films have the audacity to find the beauty and poetry in portraying of the mundane.  Fewer still find the warmth, love and humanity waiting there.  Many films suppose that a character needs to strive for something more.  Some sort of lofty goal, in which both Paterson the character and film are not interested.  Paterson deflates that issue with quiet authority and humble intelligence.

The film never makes a case that Patterson is unhappy in his life, not sharing his poetry with the world.  His ambitions are not that high.  Laura, his wife, wants to be more, striving for some sort of better future, dreaming day in and day out.  Paterson, though very supportive, does nothing with his writing beyond the act of writing as self-expression.  This particular sentiment may be the most beautiful of messages seen in a film in recent memory.

Rather than writing Laura to some sort of cliché of either the “wife” role or as a woman of Middle Eastern decent, Patterson gives actress Goldshifteh Farahani a more complex role.  Farahani is as much a co-lead as she is support for the film.  Her Laura is the dreamer; she pushes and prods (ever so lightly) Paterson to do more.  The film knowingly cuts between the two, giving us a picture of a woman who brightly and positively wants more than her quiet husband.  Farahani is wonderful bringing an intelligence and charm to her part.

Driver, a unique performer, has found a willing and very understanding collaborator in Jarmusch.  The work he does here as Paterson is uniquely understated.  There is a grace and quiet intelligence at work that Driver has not been allowed to pursue in the past.  There is an openness to the performance that we have not seen in the young actor.  Given a less manic role, Driver is wonderful.  Few if any films or projects have used the actor as successfully as Paterson does.

Together Driver and Farahani have a lovely dance, showing the reality of a relationship that few films show; a working, loving and ultimately healthy marriage. The rest of the cast is used to wonderful effect.  Barry Shabaka Henley, Chasten Harmon, William Jackson Harper and Masatoshi Nagase all turn in supporting turns that are fitted perfectly in the world that Jarmusch has created.  Henley always reliable is perfectly cast as Doc the chess playing, wise bar owner.  Some of the funniest moments are rung from the relationship Harmon and Harper engage in.  Nagase handles his moments with the same quiet conviction that Driver does.  Their scenes together are some of the most meaningful of the film.

Working for the first time since 2005’s Broken Flowers, Fredrick Elmes brings an unfettered visual grace to the film.  Never stately, but perfectly composed, the work  between Elmes and Jarmusch is wonderful, eclipsing even their splendid work in Broken Flowers.  Elmes shoots Paterson, New Jersey, like it were Bedford Falls not some sort of cliché of New Jersey.  The work done by editor Affonso Gonçalves is just as important as the repetition could veer towards something tired and trite.  In Gonçalves’ hands, it never is.

Paterson is the kind of subtle filmmaking hearkening back to the 1970’s that many filmmakers purport to want to make but few actually do.  One hopes that this is not the only collaboration between Jarmusch and Driver in the years and hopefully decades to come.  The art that has come from this endeavor is as great a work we have seen this year.  Highly recommended.

Paterson opened in theaters on December 28, 2016.

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