AMAZON STUDIOS (2016)
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Barry Shabaka Henley, Nellie the Bulldog
Depicting one week in the very ordinary life of a very ordinary man, Paterson is an unobtrusive and musing offering in stark contrast to modern blockbusters. The movie offers an altogether different viewing experience and in doing so, provides a refreshing change from the norm.
We follow local bus driver Paterson (Driver) as he gets up at the same time each day (without the need for an alarm clock), eats the same breakfast each morning and engages in identical conversation with his colleague at the depot. He drives the #23 bus route all day and enjoys a regimented packed lunch from his loving wife Laura (Farahani). Upon returning home, he straightens his always crooked mailbox and listens to his wife’s day over a strange meal. In the evening, he takes his adversary, Marvin the grumbling bulldog, for a nightly walk to the same bar for one beer before calling in for the night.
The bus journeys allow him to spend his days listening to the stories of the residents of Paterson, New Jersey (yep, same name as the town – very Jarmusch) amusing him and also providing some inspiration for his passion – poetry. Scribbling in his “secret” notebook whenever he has the chance, he writes odes to his wife and everyday life. Influenced by Paterson royalty William Carlos Williams (and his poem “Paterson”), his poems are very much for himself, though Laura urges him to share his gift with the world – to his polite chagrin.
Now, it’s quite hard to make the above sound like something that would be exciting or riveting to watch, but it’s in the small details, the nuances and the performances where the story has its heart. It’s also due to the artistry weaved by Jarmusch that he has created a movie devoid of real plot, yet leaves you hanging on and feeling slightly bereft that it will end.
The performance by Adam Driver (in non-Star Wars blockbuster mode) is quietly monumental, a role that seems to fit perfectly, as if he has lived the role for years. Driver did, in fact, pass his bus drivers test prior to filming to add extra credibility to the camerawork and greater understanding for his character. His expressions say what words couldn’t throughout. Farahani’s wonderfully eccentric turn as Paterson’s visionary wife is the perfect yin to his yang. Each day brings a new dream for her (a cupcake business one day, to be a country singer the next) and her pleasantly bizarre nature become endearing throughout.
There are deviations from the linear path that Paterson follows, each night in the bar brings a different event for him to negotiate, and shooting the breeze with Doc (Henley), the barman, and as the week progresses more changes to the routine are enforced which Paterson must soldier through. Far from being a slog through someone’s life, there are comic moments scattered through – Paterson’s enduring of his wife’s strange meals (cheese and Brussels sprout pie anyone?) and her desire to live in a house bathed in black and white are fun to watch. The relationship between man and dog is a great running gag, and we do find out how the mailbox becomes crooked each day. After Laura tells Paterson she dreamt they had twins, suddenly Paterson notices twins everywhere – but there’s no foreshadowing to be found here. This movie is grounded, no, cemented in reality.
Completed with a poetic ending, Paterson celebrates the story of the everyday man and woman. There was no need more dramatic shifts in story here, or for narrative tension. Instead, the microcosm glance into the life of an ordinary man is all that is required, and the daily happenings that shape his life. There’s poetry all around, on screen, within the characters and it’s another celebration for the movie.
What a lovely movie Paterson is.
The question is - would you rather be a fish?
April 3rd 2017