Movie Review: Paterson
R | 1h 58min
Director: Jim Jarmusch
by Jason Koenigsberg
Jim Jarmusch is one of the finest voices of independent cinema and has been for over thirty years. Never taking a studios money and always self financing his pictures, he has blended quirky humor with realistic human emotions in films that span genres from westerns, to road movies, to gangster pictures. He is one of the most humanistic filmmakers working today and his newest film Paterson is one of his greatest achievements that finds beauty in the most simple and ordinary details of life.
The opening shot shows our main character, a bus driver and poet named Paterson, played by Adam Driver lying in bed with his girlfriend played by Golshifteh Farahani. It establishes the tone of the film followed by quick shots around the bedroom telling us what we need to know about about our main character and his background through images with no need for superfluous dialogue. Paterson is a bus driver living and working in Paterson, New Jersey, giving the title a double meaning. Throughout the film this duality is illustrated with twins and couples being a prevalent theme. As he drives and walks the streets the camera lingers on couples, romantic and platonic, and a predominant amount of twins that are costumed the same.
Paterson contains beautiful cinematography, with shots expertly set up that feature a background corresponding with the dialogue or poetry our main character is writing. When he writes a poem about matches we see him walk past the word “fire” on a wall. It manages to find beauty in urban poverty and normally mundane streets. Through the images and dialogue Jim Jarmusch makes lower-middle class America look honorable and noble in a very matter-of-fact sense. Paterson is thankfully not overblown or preachy as it could have been in the hands of a lesser writer/director.
The acting was just as superb as the direction. Adam Driver has emerged as an incredibly talented actor and this is his best performance. It is almost too subtle and nuanced to receive attention from the awards circuit. He plays Paterson as an existentialist, always saying “it’s ok” even when unfortunate things happen to him and Adam Driver conveys the sense that his character really thinks everything is ok. His Paterson is like a poet from another time, someone with a deep romantic soul that would have possibly been more appreciated if he lived a few centuries ago. This is further illustrated by the fact that he does not carry a cell phone and equates having a smartphone to being on a leash.
Golshifteh Farahani who plays his girlfriend is just right in all of her scenes as an artistic woman trying to release her passion through cooking, music and design. Her creativity results in having some quaint costumes and Paterson having some exquisite interior decoration of their apartment. Black and white are predominant colors of her work and coincides with the Yin and Yang motif of the film. Farahani is playing a part that would have been ideal for Salma Hayek twenty years ago and she is terrific. Hopefully this leads to more great parts for the Iranian actress. Their dog Marvin (real name Nellie) is one of the most complex roles written for a canine in quite some time and he steals a few scenes.
The ultimate message from Paterson is about never giving up your passions for the arts such as writing, drawing or composing music. There have been countless films about this yet none that feel as realistic as Paterson does. The main couple are struggling artists in their own way but they have bills to pay and a weekly routine yet their quiet moments writing poetry or baking cupcakes make their lives more beautiful. The final shot is an interesting one probably meant to display that the routine of life will go on no matter what happened the day before. Paterson is a subtle love letter to the artsy side in all of us and that we are surrounded by brilliant artists and unsung heroes everyday yet hardly ever acknowledge them.