Thursday 2 January 2020

Movie Review: Paterson (2016)

An idiosyncratic low-key slice-of-life drama and romance with some humour, Paterson looks for artistry in absolute normality.

The film takes place over the course of one week in the nondescript suburb of Paterson, New Jersey. Born and raised in the community, Paterson (Adam Driver) is an amateur poet and transit bus driver. He lives a quiet routine-based life with his partner Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), a stay-at-home decorator (everything in black and white) and cupcake baking aficionado, and their bulldog Marvin.

Every day Paterson wakes up at the same time, has the same breakfast and drives the same route. He overhears snippets of conversations between bus passengers, and ends the day by taking Marvin for a walk and stopping for a beer at the local pub, where he interacts with the bartender and a few regulars. During work breaks he fills his notebook with poetry.

In their relationship Laura does most of the talking, encouraging him to safeguard his poetry by photocopying his notebook, expressing her dreams of becoming a country singer, and planning for a weekend bake sale.

Inspired by the poetry of William Carlos Williams, who was from Paterson, and with additional poetry by Ron Padgett, director and writer Jim Jarmusch creates a serene portrait of talent lurking underneath the thicket of ordinariness as an average couple from a working class neighbourhood navigate their way through a settled routine.

Barely anything noteworthy happens over the seven weeks. The height of excitement in Paterson's life is a minor bus mishap, and then a brief drama at the bar. And yet the flickers of potential and joy nurturing his existence are everywhere. This is a bus driver who loves to both read and write poetry, his creativity hiding behind his introspective nature and bus driver's uniform. And Laura is a loving and supportive wife with dual streaks of business and creative ambition.

And Jarmusch playfully inserts coincidences all around Paterson hinting at his potential or destiny. Laura mentions dreaming about the couple having twins and suddenly Paterson is noticing twins all around his community. And two of the strangers he meets during the week are amateur poets who also write their poetry in private notebooks: a young girl waiting to be picked up by her mom, and in the film's most poignant moment, a Japanese tourist who intervenes when Paterson is at his lowest ebb. Unspoken but unmistakable mutual inspiration crackles in both encounters.

Adam Driver stays within himself as a quiet man content with his well-defined routine, never even hinting at a willingness to seek any level of commotion. Golshifteh Farahani provides most of the film's warmth with a genuine performance, portraying Laura as equally at peace but still seeking her progression in life. The bulldog Marvin is the essential third member of the family, an adorable feisty but low-rumble presence.

Paterson the place and the person are every place and every person. For the vast majority life is a routine, but delicate, essential and loving individual virtuosity resides in every corner.

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