A Life Less Ordinary: A 'Paterson' Film Review
by Will Lindus
There’s a strangely renegade element to Jim Jarmusch’s understated Paterson. The average film, whether it be a high-stakes action film, a low-brow comedy, or a sweeping romance rests the axis of the narrative on some central point of conflict. Will the hero save the day? Will the band of misfits overcome all odds? Will the star-crossed lovers somehow find a way to be together? Paterson feels antithetical to this traditional approach, focusing instead on the small interactions of a working class man in his mundane life. As to whether this approach is successful, well, mileage will vary based on viewer expectations.
The film follows a man named Paterson (Adam Driver) who carries out a pleasant, if banal existence in Paterson, New Jersey. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the man is that he shares the same name as his home town, a fact brought up as a curiosity by each new person he meets. Beyond this, Paterson is the epitome of the every-man. He shares a small home with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), an eccentric if loving woman who inspires his passion for writing poetry. He works as a bus driver, a job which he does well enough, a job which allows him time to observe the people around him, to meditate on his life, and to craft subtle poetry which reflects his humble existence. As part of his nightly ritual, Paterson is taken for a walk around the neighborhood, complete with a stop at the local bar, by his pet English bulldog.
As an exploration of the tiny, quiet challenges, victories, and defeats which make up our everyday lives, Paterson is incredibly poignant. In Paterson, we see a reflection of the kind of life seldom highlighted in cinema, a life lived between the margins, a life far from the peaks and valleys experienced by the highly dramatic. The strength of this film’s ability to carry this quiet focus comes from Adam Driver, who purposefully downplays reactions and interactions to capture the calm drive of Paterson.
On the other hand, the film’s lack of central conflict creates a narrative where the stakes don’t truly matter. The entire film feels like the prologue of another film, where each scene is setting up a moment where the plot can finally kick in. That scene never truly comes, and while the third act features a brief moment of conflict requiring resolution, the scene comes too late to truly sink its teeth in.
The most interesting feature Jarmusch brings to the screen is a visual display of the words Paterson jots down in his poetry notebook. As Paterson works through his creative process, text is layered on the frame with each new word, each passing thought. This is a beautiful and bold way of displaying a would-be artist crafting his poetry; however, the film spends a lot of time on these sequences, often repeating lines of poetry to show the start/stop nature of Paterson’s writing. The effectiveness of this technique erodes over time, and in places feels a tad tedious.
Bottom Line: If you are the type of person who can enjoy a quiet, meditative slice of life film at face value, who can enjoy a film that seeks to follow a charmingly mundane man as he lives his mundane life, then Paterson is the right film for you. Jarmusch has a focused vision of the world Paterson lives in, and indulges in letting the details delightfully shine. However, if you are the type of person who seeks conflict and resolution in their narrative structure, you will likely find Paterson as a big of a slog with little payoff. Neither mentality is better than the other; as audiences, we seek different things from cinema. The importance here is recognizing what you seek from film and making an informed decision as to whether to see Paterson based on your own personal preferences.
Paterson opens in NY and LA on 12/26/16 and will expand regionally on 1/6, 1/13, and 1/20
3.5 out of 5 Bear Paws