Movie Review: Paterson

Adam Driver as Paterson, Golshifteh Farahani as Laura. Credit: Mary Cybulski/Amazon Studios & Bleeker Street © 2016 Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street

Adam Driver as Paterson, Golshifteh Farahani as Laura in “Paterson.” Credit: Mary Cybulski/Amazon Studios & Bleeker Street © 2016 Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street

The unique Paterson stands out from the cinematic crowd. And given the halting crowd of 2016 … it’s about time.

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

In this 2016 year of American films of overblown actioners, dull drama and utterly tragic comedies comes Paterson, a quiet character study that allows us to breathe and reflect on the simple. Simple joys, simple concerns that make for a simple life. Yet this simplicity reveals a deeper complexity of human nature in all of its humor, determination, frustrations and above all, devotion. As the protagonist states, “Without love, what reason is there for anything?”

In auteur Jim Jarmusch’s distinctively realized film, Adam Driver’s bus driver, the mononymously named Paterson – born and bred in the actual city of Paterson, NJ – circuits through one entire week, with the beginning of each new day demarcated in an onscreen caption. In the initial Monday morning scene that opens on a tender face-to-face tableau of the awakening Paterson and his beautiful wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), she speaks first. “I had a beautiful dream. We had two little children. Twins. Would you like it if we had twins?” He muses before saying, “Sure, why not. One for each of us.” And then he kisses her softly, lovingly. In this small exchange, Jarmusch deftly sets up Laura’s penchant for sharing her every thought, versus Paterson’s slower reactions, innate humor and enduing love for his wife.

Adam Driver as Paterson, Golshifteh Farahani as Laura in "Paterson." Credit: Mary Cybulski/Amazon Studios & Bleeker Street © 2016 Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street

Adam Driver as Paterson, Golshifteh Farahani as Laura in “Paterson.” Credit: Mary Cybulski/Amazon Studios & Bleeker Street © 2016 Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street

The opening dialogue additionally acts as a set-up for the idea of twins running throughout, double dips of people who are old, young, black, white, male or female. The duality is also verbal, i.e. the protagonist Paterson is of the town of Paterson. (Ironically, Adam Driver plays the driver.) And if, taking into account the ancient Chinese symbology of yin and yang (in which the two universal forces are opposing yet complementary), Paterson may be advancing the thought that even though they’re polar opposites, Paterson and Laura might be twins as well.

Ever since his splash with the 1984 indie Stranger in Paradise (winning the Cannes Caméra d’Or award for a debut film), Jarmusch has maintained his own vision and voice, insisting on creative control. And as is reflective of this movie, his work often examines unique characters subsisting in specific American landscapes.

Adam Driver as Paterson in "Paterson." Credit: Mary Cybulski/Amazon Studios & Bleeker Street © 2016 Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street

Adam Driver as Paterson in “Paterson.” Credit: Mary Cybulski/Amazon Studios & Bleeker Street © 2016 Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street

Paterson focuses on the protagonist as he travels through his routine, paying attention to the daily vagaries. A humble blue-collar fellow with a strong work ethic, Paterson walks the same route to the transit station each day, his sturdy lunch pail by his side, spending his 9-to-5 dutifully ferrying many, often gray-faced passengers. He doesn’t seem to mind as long as he can grab precious moments here and there to work on his poems in his notebook, teasing them to his satisfaction. His multiple drafts are expressed in voiceover, as well as appearing onscreen in a handwritten scrawl (illustrating the stops and starts of the struggling artist at work).

We also get a front row seat to Laura’s creative output. She’s a Tasmanian Devil of artistic action, whirling from one wild endeavor to another. And if Jarmusch had intended to nod to a visual yin-yang sensibility, Laura’s art represents it perfectly in all its circular, black-and-white glory. Whether she paints the walls, or her clothes, or chooses a guitar, or bakes cupcakes, the scheme is solely monochromatic.

Though she appears to be the impulsive half, her projects all exhibit a strict geometric discipline. Whereas, conversely, Paterson is far more free-ranging, soaking in all manner of inspirational cues from the world around him. Whether it be the conversation between two male riders bragging about their imagined sexual prowess, or the frustrations voiced by the denizens of the neighborhood bar where he nurses his one solitary beer nightly, or his wary relationship with Marvin the bulldog, Paterson is a poetic conduit for the human condition.

In his non-judgmental, clear-eyed reactions, Driver delivers a character of few words and extraordinary depth. His Paterson effortlessly reflects his bottomless love for Laura; we see it in his every look, his every caress. With his easy, appreciative smiles for the smallest things that tickle him, Driver’s Paterson doesn’t blast his presence. Rather, he drifts into view, an unassuming shadow that only grows larger over the length of the film.

However, the character of the winsome Laura (ebulliently played by Iranian actress Farahani) is so perfect that it begs credibility. Her zealous enthusiasm for her husband’s poetry is ingenuous, given that he has never allowed her to read a single line. She never complains when Paterson goes out at night alone, and appears to be radiantly in love with life 24/7. Though Farahani sizzles on screen with beauty, personality and energy, the character leans more toward fantasy than flesh.

Marvin (played by Nellie) in "Paterson."

Nellie as Marvin in “Paterson.” Credit: Mary Cybulski/Amazon Studios & Bleeker Street © 2016 Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street

But then there’s the other female of the piece, the wondrous bulldog Nellie. She portrays the sometimes obedient, sometimes rebellious Marvin who’s always ready to dress down Paterson with a curt expression or a disapproving grunt. Though Nellie garnered the 2016 Cannes Palme Dog award, she holds the sobering record of being the first to receive the award posthumously, having passed away a few months before the festival. Paterson is dedicated to her.

With additional nods to its fascinating cinematography and articulated score, Paterson reflects film auteur Jarmusch at the top of his game. Per celebrated poet William Carlos Williams — the story’s oft-mentioned, bona fide Paterson resident and the protagonist’s idol — the following quote could very well reflect this latest Jarmusch creation:

“If they give you lined paper … write the other way.”

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Rating on a scale of 5 choruses of “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round”: 4.5

Release date: December 28, 2016 (ltd.)
Written and Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Nellie, Barry Shabaka Henley, Cliff Smith, Chasten Harmon, William Jackson Harper, Masatoshi Nagase
Running Time: 118 minutes
Rating: R

Here’s the trailer for Paterson:

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 500+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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