Sept. 22, 2017
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Paterson Review: Sheer-ish Poetry

Jim Jarmusch almost gets there

January 11, 2017, 10:05 am

When I was a kid, my aunt bought an 1980s-era Mercedes; her dream car. Before that day, though I was obviously familiar with the brand, I'd never really seen this particular model, but the funny thing was that after she had driven around in this thing a few months, I started to notice them everywhere. A similar catalyst occurs in the life of Paterson (Star Wars' Adam Driver) in the new film Paterson from auteur Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive, Dead Man), a sort of love letter to the New Jersey city of the same name, but also an examination of the enormity hidden in everyday human existence. 

The mere suggestion of twins from Paterson's live-in girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) causes him to notice similar pairs everywhere, and it's like a doorway to his constant observation of the beauty discoverable within the commonplace or mundane.

Paterson is a typical guy from Paterson (yeah, yeah—again, it's the same name). He gets up early, drives a bus for the city and lives out a fairly routine lifestyle. But hidden beneath his agreeable, workaday exterior lies the soul of a poet and a brain constantly in action. Paterson carries with him what he calls a "secret notebook" that he fills with poems based on the seemingly inconsequential moments and objects found in his day-to-day. Something as simple as a box of matches flips a switch in Paterson's mind, causing him to draw connections between the potentially ignited match and an almost painful love for Laura. Yet Paterson isn't exactly what you'd call emotional, nor does he appear willing to open up to anyone. It's almost as if he were taught long ago to never rock the boat.

Jarmusch hides clues from his past throughout the film, such as a photo of Paterson in a Marines uniform or an obsession with the poet William Carlos Williams, whom we learn also hails from Paterson, but our hero seems more content to quietly drink in the world moving around him rather than engage or affect it in any particular way. Paterson leaves his feelings for the page and finds comfort in sticking to a routine. It's almost unnerving at first, but as coworkers complain and former lovers clash and his girlfriend perpetually changes her dream from home decor to country music superstardom to cupcake master, we begin to appreciate his introverted nature for its dignified simplicity; Paterson is a good man. And his poems, provided by real-life poet Ron Padgett, convey his different way of seeing things, which is an easy quality to envy.

There's a comfort in his soft existence, and though Paterson ends with a whimper—and it would have been helpful to get a clearer idea of his origins—Jarmusch has tapped into an often-overlooked type of storytelling that favors relating a simple tale told well over spectacle or, even worse, the assumption that audiences can't enjoy a film without nonstop explosions and CGI. Of course, that's kind of Jarmusch's whole deal, but whereas previous films in his repertoire have had some sort of borderline fantastic element lurking in the background (like vampires or mistaken identity), Paterson is a patiently executed microcosm that serves to remind us how sometimes the most beautiful minds toil in obscurity. 


+ Well-acted, quietly beautiful
- Weak ending, not for the impatient 

Directed by Jim Jarmusch
With Driver and Farahani
Violet Crown, R, 118 min.


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