Review: Paterson (2016)

A great cast and a brilliant auteur with a dada-esque contempt for narrative.

Let us go then, you and I, to Paterson, New Jersey: birthplace of Allen Ginsberg, and longtime home of modernist poet William Carlos Williams. It’s a city known for its poetry. For this review we turn our attention to one poet in particular, a man who himself is called Paterson, played by the ever-impressive Adam Driver.

Over the past five years Driver has become a quiet but un-ignorable presence in entertainment, both in film and on television. From his role as the illusive and wild Adam Sackler in the Lena Durham-created Girls (2011), to his role as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and as Father Garupe in Silence (2016), as well as a range of smaller roles, including bit-parts in films like Lincoln (2012) and Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) the Juilliard trained actor has made quite a name for himself. It seems ironically appropriate then that the young actor, who’s star has never been higher, should be playing a role as subdued as Paterson. Driver plays his character as at once content with his lot in life and yet disconnected from the world around him. Not an abject disappointment with his life, of course, but it’s pretty clear that the character is aware that he’s measuring out his life in cheerio spoons. Like an ancient mariner, Paterson is a man searching for… something. A better job? A purpose in life? A sense of the sublime in 21st century New Jersey? A word that rhymes with orange?

The film never gives any clear answers, but then that would defeat the purpose of it. In the past Jim Jarmusch – the film’s writer and director – has indicated that he doesn’t appreciate telling big stories, that he’d rather tell the story of the guy in the laundromat than the story of the Emperor of China, and the same is true in Paterson (2016). This is not the story of how Paterson from New Jersey became the internationally recognised “Best Poet in the World;” it’s just a week in the life of a guy who doesn’t even consider himself a poet.

Paterson (2016) isn’t so much a howl as it is a soothing hum. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s refreshing to see a film where there are no big stakes, no drama, and no danger – especially if, like me, you’re watching this straight after watching 13 Reasons Why (2017). So, with no drama, it’s important that the cast be able to play their roles well enough that the audience won’t turn the movie off. This is especially true of the leading man, and Driver doesn’t fail to deliver. He plays his role quietly and unassuming, like Clark Kent if Clark Kent drove the bus and wrote poems about matches. Paterson is instantly likeable as a character.

Likewise, Golshifteh Farahani offers a delightful performance as Paterson’s wife, Laura. She’s enthusiastic, sometimes overly so, but she’s never unsupportive of her husband’s artistic ventures, and he, too, supports hers. While his passions are concentrated on poetry, hers run a gamut from baking to playing the guitar. Her dreams are maybe a little outlandish – for example becoming a country music star – but you never find yourself routing against her. Together they make a good team, and you can see why they got together in the first place.

But with all the praise that I can lay on it, Paterson (2016) is not for everyone, nor is it perfect. The musical soundtrack is virtually nonexistent, and the cyclical nature of the film would certainly put some people off. It’s a film that I wouldn’t recommend to someone who is only familiar with Driver’s work from Girls (2011) or Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and who wanted to see something similar, but I would feel comfortable recommending it to someone looking for a good indie flick. Because that’s what you get: a well-directed and acted indie flick.

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