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by Peter Sobczynski

"Poetry In Slow Motion"
5 stars

Jim Jarmusch has been making movies for nearly four decades now—he was one of the faces of the American independent film movement long before most people were aware that such a thing even existed—and as a fan of his work, both his oddball genre explorations such as the trippy Western “Dead Man,” the martial arts-influences “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” and the vampire riff “Only Lovers Left Alive,” and one-of-a-kind efforts as “Down by Law,” “Night on Earth” and “Broken Flowers,” I would go so far as to declaim him as one of the most exciting and consistently interesting cinematic talents of his time. That said, even I would admit that his idiosyncratic style of filmmaking is not everyone’s cup of tea—I think that “Dead Man” is a stone-cold masterpiece but if someone were to ask me if they should see it, I would have to know their taste in films pretty well before immediately recommending it to them. In the case of his latest work, the wonderful “Paterson,” he has somehow managed to make a movie that is as unique as anything that he has done before and easily his best film since the aforementioned “Dead Man” while somehow managing to be his most accessible work since he made his big breakthrough with the 1984 feel-good art-house hit “Stranger Than Paradise.”

The title refers to both the New Jersey town where the film is set—an area that that has counted among its residents such legends as poet William Carlos Williams (who wrote a five-volume poem called “Paterson”), boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and comedian Lou Costello—and to its main character (Adam Driver), who drives its streets every day through his job as a bus driver. The film views Paterson over the course of a week and we quickly get a sense of his usual routine over that time. Every morning, he wakes up with his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) in his small-but-homey house and eats a bowl of cereal before heading off to work with his lunch box in hand. After driving his route all day, he comes home to eat dinner with Laura and then takes their dog, an English bulldog named Marvin, out for a walk that includes a stop at the local bar for a single beer and a few friendly words with the bartender (Barry Shabaka Henley) and the other regulars before heading home. This, save for the occasional minor change and weekends, is the routine that he has followed for years and will no doubt continue to follow for the years to come.

In most stories, this kind of routine might precipitate some kind of outburst from a main character eager to break out of those ritualized patters and do something different. This is not that kind of story because Paterson seems completely content with his existence for a couple of reasons. For one, he has the love and support of Laura, who fills her days with enough instant passions (artwork, guitar playing, cupcake baking) to cover both of them. More importantly, Paterson has an outlet in the poetry that he quietly writes on the side during his free time—sitting in his bus while waiting for his shift to begin, eating lunch, at home in his little workspace in the basement. Even the ritualized nature of his job works to his advantage in the sense that he is able to do his work while still contemplating what it is that he wants to express through his words. Using aspects of his life as inspiration, he creates poems (actually written by ) that are strong and interesting but despite the encouragement of Laura to do so, he has no interest in sharing his work with the outside world and is content with them staying in the notebook he carries around everywhere.

In much the same way that Paterson uses the most minute aspects of his existence—a book of matches, for example—as points of inspiration for his poetry, “Paterson” finds Jarmusch using his typically deadpan narrative approach to find the cinematic poetry in the existence of his character without ever succumbing to sentimentality or condescension. At first, the film might seem like a pilot for an exceptionally oddball sitcom because of its ritualized nature and the use of any number of tropes familiar to the genre—the amiable blue-collar guy who is the central character, the quirky-but-hot wife, the array of supporting characters each armed with a familiar bit or two, the cute pet—but Jarmusch takes those cliches and reinvests them with a genuine and lived-in quality that sets it apart from most movies that come along these days. You never see him straining to try to provoke some kind of reaction out of his audience—there are no grand epiphanies or artificial crises to overcome and none of the actors have showcase scenes that seem to have been designed to be featured on Oscar highlight shows. Even when a comparatively big moment comes along, Jarmusch handles it in such a refreshingly offbeat manner that never fails to surprise and entertain without being pushy about it. In fact, both the single funniest moment in the film and the biggest dramatic moment on display are both afforded to the dog and are all the more effective because of the deft manner in which they have been underplayed.

So what is there to “Paterson” that I am so convinced a mass audience would respond to if given a chance? For starters, it is probably the funniest film that Jarmusch has done since the early days of “Stranger than Paradise” and “Down by Law”—whether dealing with the aforementioned stuff involving the dog or Paterson’s interactions with Laura, his co-workers and the locals at the bar, he once again proves himself to be a master of dry, droll comedy as well as an expert in conceiving and executing running jokes that actually get funnier with each deployment. The performances all around are wonderful as well—between this and his work in the current “Silence,” Adam Driver once again proves himself to be one of the most intriguing American actors around with a flair for deadpan underplaying that fits in perfectly with Jarmusch’s approach and he is surrounded by a supporting cast that hums with the energy of an ensemble that has been together for years and which is currently firing on all cylinders. Most of all, there is the genuinely sweet romance between Paterson and Laura, an opposites-attract union that should theoretically not work at all but somehow does despite the seeming mismatch between Paterson’s low-key reticence and Laura’s aggressively quirky manner. If Jarmusch ever decides to make any more films exploring the entire “Paterson” universe, I hope and pray that one of them is a flashback recounting how the two of them came together because just from watching them here, you know that has to be one hell of a story.

“Paterson” is an absolute delight from start to finish but as much as I think that people will adore it, I recognize that for a movie like this—one more interested in the small nuances of everyday life and behavior than in big, dramatic plot beats—rave reviews can sometimes be just as much of a curse as they are a blessing in the sense that some people attracted by those raves may find themselves befuddled by the lack of narrative drive and wonder what all the fuss was about. (This could be called the “Lost in Translation Effect.”) Of course, any movie can have tons of plot developments thrown into the mix seemingly at random in order to convince viewers that they are witnessing a complete story (see—better yet, don’t—“XXX 3: The Return of Xander Cage”). What is more difficult is to create realistic and engaging characters and put them in a framework that plays so well that viewers get hooked even without any broad story beats or moments of dramatic import of note. (Even when a character pulls a gun in the bar and threatens mayhem, it is seen as just one of those things.) “Paterson” does this extraordinarily well and the result is a fill that is so funny and wise and thoughtful that yeah, I guess you could call it poetic.

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originally posted: 01/28/17 03:04:20
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 New York Film Festival For more in the 2016 New York Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2016 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 AFI Film Festival For more in the 2016 AFI Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Savannah Film Festival For more in the 2016 Savannah Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/03/17 David Hollingsworth A small miracle of a film! 5 stars
2/15/17 Louise Intelligently-made - its appeal creeps up on you without you realising it until later. 4 stars
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  28-Dec-2016 (R)
  DVD: 04-Apr-2017


  DVD: 04-Apr-2017

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