PatersonPaterson (2016)

by Matt Piucci

So conditioned as I am through decades of viewing Hollywood strum und drang, it took me a while to settle in to the tiny beauties of Jim Jarmusch's latest and best film, Paterson. Pitch perfect for this exact moment in history, the film is an extraordinarily simple look at one week in the lives of a young couple living in Paterson, NJ.

Bluster is what we get on a daily basis. The signal to noise ratio is degrading. Truths seem difficult to find. But ultimately there is nothing in this world that means a damned thing beyond Love, Art and Community (after food, shelter and health). This film asks us to slow down and appreciate that. Art is in the little things, if we can just shut up and listen for them. Things like the beauty of a well-designed matchbook, or a rain puddle that reflects the sky and buildings..

The acting in Paterson is uniformly terrific. If anything, it is almost corny in its direct simplicity, but utterly guileless and therefore charming. Adam Driver plays a bus driver named Paterson. We learn that he is a very subdued but pleasant person who has a commanding presence and appears to be pretty fine poet. In but a fraction of a second, about halfway through the film we see a picture of him in his Marine Dress Blues uniform, again no phoniness there as Driver is in fact an ex-Marine. A lesser film would resort to flashback, but in this film that is the only reference to his service, one of many understated but correct choices made by the filmmaker.

The absurdly adorable Golshiftleh Farahani plays Laura (his wife I think, Iím not sure it is stated), who spends her day singing, dreaming, painting and baking some beautiful cupcakes. Her day appears free and easy, as opposed to his stiff but genteel routine. Its clear they are deeply in love. The only tension in this idyllic relationship is provided by an equally adorable bulldog, Marvin. He clearly belongs to Laura, predates Paterson, and doesnít appear to like his Laura kissing this guy.

Paterson writes poetry in the sparse and plain style of William Carlos Williams, Paterson's local hero, who along with Lou Costello, Allen Ginsberg and other historic and famous 'Patersonians' are part of the fabric of this film and this community. The effect is quite charming. But Driverís character does not consider himself a poet, anymore than his wife is a baker or an artist or a singer- they just do it. Completely without pretense. We see the couple waking up each day for a week in their small apartment and going about their lives. As Paterson makes his way through his routine - grabbing his watch each morning right after he wakes, kissing his sleeping wife, eating Cheerios out of the same bowl, walking to and from work, driving his bus and hearing the passenger's conversations and his poems in his head, walking Marvin to the local bar each night for exactly one beer - he runs into all sorts of people.

Yes, Adam Driver is the bus driver named Paterson who lives and works in Paterson. It is kind of Greek in that way, the guy doesnít even have a first name, and the city is as a much a character in this film as any person. We see the city in walks thorough the old east coast neighborhoods, gritty but beautiful, a soulful blue collar American city. We see the same route through the windows of his moving bus, the only human sounds come from the characters who ride and on whose conversations Paterson eavesdrops. For example the two college kids talking about local anarchist Gaetano Bresci who killed the King of Italy, or a couple thirty something guys talking about attractive women they've met. The only acknowledgment they get is the silent, wry smile of approval from the Driver Paterson. Or the city. Or both.

LauraStereotypes are subverted here, quietly as with everything else. Driver is one of only a few white males in the film. And not a one of them is a clichť. Just regular folks like him. It's sad that this is unusual, but it is. Barry Shabaka Henry serves as the keeper of record for the town, the local pub owner, Doc. Docís wall is covered with news items about all things Paterson - Allen Ginsburg and Rubin "Hurricane" Carter among them. Doc even asks Paterson (the man) if a particular newspaper clip of Iggy Pop with a Paterson (the city) connection is worthy of posting on his wall. They agree it is. Chasten Harmon and William Jackson Harper are excellent as a couple in a break up, she and he both eliciting sympathy and muted advice from the patrons of Docís bar.

It somewhat reminds me of Richard Linklaterís "Slacker" (1991), a film tour that examines the psyche of Austin. TX, via conversations held by many of its residents. And although I liked "Slacker" a lot, it was a bit pretentious and precious, a quality absent in Paterson. This film does not have characters tell grandiose stories, but rather tell stories that are simple but profound.

A lot of Jarmusch's work seemed forced to me, trying too hard for non conformity. Perhaps it is his age (63), perhaps the times or maybe he just got lucky. Whatever it is, I am eternally grateful. It is his best movie.

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