As we reflect on 2016 at its close, we can truly say with confidence and conviction that it has been a terrible year. At least some part of this can be attributed to the soul-crushing movies that elevated our excitement contrasted by the horrible end product. I’m looking at Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad, Independence Day: Resurgence and countless others that were just plain bad. Luckily for tired moviegoers, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is closing out the year — and it is the opposite of the overblown, bombastic films that were thrown in their faces all year.
Paterson follows a normal week in the life of a bus driver named Paterson (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) who lives in Paterson, New Jersey. He wakes up everyday at 6:00 a.m., heads off to work, arrives back at home precisely at 6:00 p.m., walks his dog and has a drink at a local pub. His wife, on the other hand, stays at home and keeps herself busy by different projects. She bakes cupcakes to sell at the farmers market, fixes up her home, and plays and sings the country guitar. Although these seem like typical hobbies for a stay-at-home wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani, Body of Lies) acknowledges that these are her dreams which will someday become real.
Although Laura has many passions and constantly discusses them, Paterson has one small passion of his own — poetry. Every day he writes small poems about his everyday life in his notebook. Although they may not be the most elegant and memorable prose, the humble, simple nature of them, as well as Paterson’s clear enjoyment he gets from writing them, seem like the most wonderful thing in the world. Laura continues to encourage Paterson to publish them, although he states that his poems are simply for him and he has no real desire to share them.
Jarmusch’s film triumphs the mundane and banality of Paterson’s life — as well as the life of everyone in town. The entire movie is real and relatable, but Paterson’s passion and poems are the most accessible. Who doesn’t have their hobby or interest that cherish and take pleasure in everyday? These moments make the more boring ones worthwhile and memorable. Towards the end of the movie, Paterson’s dog rips up his notebook of poem before he can copy them, and the deep sadness and loss is achingly real for him and for the audience.
Herein lies somewhat of the genius and the flaw with Paterson. The two-hour movie drifts along slowly and sometimes plainly, and there is not so much of a plot as there is a series of encounters and moments. This may be an insurmountable request for some viewers, but that is the point. Life in a small town is indeed exactly that — slow, plain, and moves along through a series of encounters and moments. Although Paterson would not qualify as a realist film, these ideas, as well as others, clearly derive inspiration from realism cinema.
One last thing that should be pointed out is the performance of the two leads — Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani. The latter plays Laura with an effable charm and delight; Farahani gives a winning performance with almost a Chris Traeger-like optimism and positivity. However, the movie belongs to Driver. Undeniably a great overall performer and a high-rising star, Driver brings his shy, dulled-down charisma to the role of Paterson, and helps to make it extremely watchable. At times he may seem a bit too blank, but these moments are infrequent enough and often followed by small, sophisticated scenes where Driver truly shines.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
Jim Jarmusch has added another wonderful film to his canon — a slow-paced but exultant movie about the hidden wonders of everyday life and the people with whom we choose to share it. Buoyed by terrific performances from Farahani and Driver, Paterson is a welcome change to the depressing, over-the-top movies that 2016 seems to keep churning out. It’s the perfect way to end the year.