Paterson, New Jersey is the setting for “Paterson”, the new flick from existentialist auteur Jim Jarmusch, which stars Adam Driver as a character named Paterson. Existential can mean two things: one, exactly how it’s defined in the dictionary; two, there must be something deep going on here that I’m just not getting but I need a word that makes it sound like I am. I liked “Paterson”, because it’s curious and kind of fun and has fully shifted Adam Driver into an actor that I look forward to seeing. But the film most certainly falls in the latter category. I could call it wise when I mean pretentious, or I could call it a quiet observation when I mean it’s like watching paint dry. And there’s that word existential, when the plot is as elusive as a gutter pigeon.
I guess I should tell you that despite all of the bullshit language that I could throw out there when over-reading into Jarmusch’s film and/or trying to pretend that it drove me to catharsis, that it is nevertheless a pleasant experience, and when I say it’s poetic I actually mean it. Driver’s Paterson (presumably linked to the name of his hometown some dozens of generations back—just something to ponder, but who knows), plays a public transit driver who writes poetry during the day. His girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) calls it his Secret Book, and she urges him to make copies and share them with the world and become the next great poet. His words make for a nice, artistic overlay to the minutiae.
Paterson is uncommonly kind, quiet, patient. “Paterson” chronicles roughly a week of his life. You could set your clock by him. And you do, because he does. Every morning. He wakes up at 6:10. Later in the week, he starts to wake up at 6:30 (ish). Walks Marvin, their English Bulldog (and his arch-nemesis, ggrrrhhh) every night. Stops by the same bar to chat with Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley). Fun fact: Lou Costello was a Paterson native. The film does not diverge into anything atypical—if not for an incident with a Nerf gun, there would be nothing but innocuous things in Jarmusch’s story. The abundance of twins is either metaphorical, or just a strange small town phenomenon that our lead character happens to pick up on. Girlfriend Laura is a hopeless dreamer–a baker one day, aspiring country singer the next–but absorbs and embraces life and is happy.
If you are as patient and reserved and perceptive as Driver’s character, you might glean something from “Paterson”. I am none of those things, and carried from the film a general sense of pleasantness. Farahani and Driver have a palpable chemistry, one that is not over-romanticized or dramatized in traditional filmic sense, rather hidden in the idiosyncratic stuff, the habits, the way you might say good morning to someone who you’ve lived with for a long time, like trillions of molecules coming together in just the right way. How’s that for existentialism? So whether it’s pretentious and slow or wise and existential, “Paterson” becomes fascinating in the most minute of ways.
—M. Parsons 2017
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