Monday, October 03, 2016

“Paterson”– Movie Review



During the opening weekend of The New York Film Festival, I attended the U.S. Premiere of the new comedy-drama by Jim Jarmusch, “Paterson”, starring Adam Driver. 


A week in the life of a married New Jersey bus driver whose hobby is writing poetry.


Paterson (Driver) is a bus driver who likes to write poetry during his spare time.  Coincidentally, he also happens to live in Paterson, New Jersey.  By an even stranger coincidence, one of his favorite poets is William Carlos Williams, who wrote an epic poem by the name of “Paterson”.  His wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) is very supportive of his poetry and has aspirations of her own – ones that change from day-to-day, if not moment-to-moment.  At first, Laura seems like she wants to be a designer, then she wants to be a baker, then a country-music singer (despite the fact that she has no musical talent). 

Despite the fact that Paterson feels loved by Laura, Marvin absolutely hates him.  Marvin, by the way, is their English Bulldog.  The petulant pooch goes out of his way to find things to do that will get on Paterson’s nerves; Marvin, however, seems to get along well with Laura.  One of Paterson’s chores is to take Marvin out on a walk every evening; he does this begrudgingly but in order to make the task more palatable, he pauses the walk mid-way through to stop at a neighborhood bar where he can hang with some of the locals.  While there, he meets a motley collection of individuals just as colorful as the ones he encounters on his bus. 

One weekend, Laura takes her home-baked cupcakes to the local flea market where she hopes to sell them.  Surprisingly, they turn out to be an enormous hit and she scores a tidy profit.  Wanting to celebrate her success, she talks Paterson into treating him to dinner and a movie.  After enjoying an all too rare evening out, they return home to find that Marvin has crossed the line:  the dog found Paterson’s notebook where he writes his poems and completely chewed it to pieces.  With the notebook beyond repair and all of his poems lost forever, will Paterson be able to recover from this or will he give up writing poetry forever?  


Will “Paterson” be known as one of those movies best seen while high?  We may not know the answer in the short term, but it would certainly seem that while director Jim Jarmusch crafted his screenplay that he may have been under the influence of some kind of mind-altering substance(s).  Regardless, “Paterson” can be enjoyed on its own terms for viewers partial to character-based films.  However, for those who prefer more of a plot-based motion picture, you’d be best advised to look elsewhere as this is one of those features that has a tendency to meander for quite a period of time; if you’re looking at your watch waiting for something to happen, then you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Being a character-based story, the audience must feel deeply invested in the protagonist and his outcome in order for the movie to work.  Are these people likeable?  It depends on where you land on their personalities.  Laura can challenge your patience; Paterson himself is somewhat more likeable, if for no other reason that he is more willing to deal with the real world whereas his wife stays home and dreams.  That said, is he an admirable protagonist?  On the one hand yes – Paterson is a loving husband, devoted to his wife, even when she asks him to buy her an expensive (on his salary) present.  But this also shows him as a bit weak, as well.  Is Paterson following the “Happy Wife, Happy Life” philosophy?  Or is he too timid to object?  When Laura prepares an utterly inedible dinner based on a recipe she invented, he prefers to silently suffer. 

One can only be left to speculate on the theme of twins throughout “Paterson”.  Is it nothing more than Jarmusch’s idea of a joke or is there some deeper meaning behind this visual imagery?  If there is in fact a deeper meaning, what could it be?  This movie played previously at the Cannes Film Festival this past Spring; in reviews, analyses by critics have ranged from this being an internal rhyme scheme (like a poem) to Laura’s repetitive requests resonating in his mind (i.e., she beseeches him to  make copies of the poems in his notebook).  Lacking an explanation by the director himself (assuming he ever gives one and if it’s a serious answer), we may never know for sure.  

Paterson (2016) on IMDb

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