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‘Paterson’ (review)

Produced by Joshua Astrachan, Carter Logan
Written and Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Starring Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani,
Barry Shabaka Henley, Cliff Smith,
Chasten Harmon,
William Jackson Harper

What is a story without a deep struggle of self?

The battle between inner or outer demons can do much of the heavy lifting when driving a story. It is all built in: passion, temptation, anger, possibly relief.

And yet, we know that life is not the stuff of movies (for most of us, anyways).

The happiness that comes from finding a groove and enjoying where you have landed is not the sexy material of most blockbusters but it can make for a captivating cinematic experience. With Paterson, Jim Jarmusch keeps the story simple, the overtures minimal, and the joy in the regular continuous.

The film follows Paterson (Adam Driver) through a week in his life as a bus driver in the city of Paterson, New Jersey.

His routine is straightforward and does not vary: work, home, walk the dog, and enjoy a beer at the neighborhood bar before returning to his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). Perhaps with a stop to write a bit of poetry for himself if the mood strikes. Laura’s life, by contrast, is full of dreams of what could happen and what may come. Together they move through daily life in Paterson with the everyday ease of many of us.

There is little variation from day to day, but the characters are engaging in the way that the viewer instantly identifies with someone similar in their own life or neighborhood.

To provide a bit of fresh air each work day includes Paterson’s overheard conversations on the bus. They act as tiny one act plays in the midst of the film. The short scenes range from two men making general comments about women they have “almost” got with, to teenagers discovering the wonders of anarchism. This, combined with a few chance interactions on his walks, allow us insight into a man of few spoken words without the character having to constantly announce his opinion.

While there are some actors that have difficulty shedding typecasting for the roles that launched them into stardom, Adam Driver is completely believable as a working class bus driver with an appreciation and knack for poetry. He blends in to his surroundings as an observer, the quiet guy at the end of the bar who keeps to himself but never comes off as standoffish. The few times he comes forward to engage are natural and display a kindness that comes from finding balance in one’s life. Driver holds much underneath the surface and the small peeks he gives the audience are always rewarding.

Small details do give insight into the lives of Paterson and Laura. His work area features shelves of heavier fare from David Foster Wallace to William Carlos Williams (his favorite). It is clear that this is not some random savant but a person who has delved into some of the best writers and poets. Though his own poems are wonderful in their straightforward cadence (all written by Ron Padgett), this is treated not as a passion or calling but more of a hobby in the way that someone might collect stamps or build model trains.

Thankfully, Laura lives to dream for both of them.

From believing that ordering a guitar may lead to her being a country western star – well, if her turn selling cupcakes does not make her a maven of the baking world – to her endless desire to paint the house and anything that stays still in her signature black and white, Golshifteh Farahani brings an untethered lightness to her scenes. In a typical plot this may be where drama rears its head, but here their relationship is a straightforward case of yin and yang that shows how two distinctly different personalities can live in sync rather than constant strife.

The film flows over the viewer, continuous and gentle in its progress. There are no jolts or major surprises because this film (and life) does not require “gotcha” moments to be enjoyable.

Paterson turns prosaic from a literary slur to a celebration of knowing that you have found the best place for you at this time, and with a little luck you may have the distinct fortune of repeating the process over and over again as long as you can.


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