Jim Jarmusch is a decidedly unique filmmaker. His films hold specific tones, textures, as if filmed in worlds oh-so similar to ours, but perhaps just one parallel earth over. His ardent fans no doubt appreciate the man’s capacity for inserting depth among deceptively simple narratives, for touching on a variety of themes in his own way, and for being, for lack of a better word, different. From Dead Man, to Ghost Dog, to Broken Flowers, to Only Lovers Left Alive, his work is certainly left-of-centre, occasionally challenging, and often polarising.
His latest film is Paterson, a picture that will surely please his fans and those open to its style, and a picture that may not work for those unwilling to entertain the latest round of Jarmusch-isms. This writer has had a love-hate relationship with the filmmaker, and while I won’t say that I’m on either end of the spectrum completely here, disinterest and eyerolls were unfortunately present throughout.
Paterson keeps everything as unassuming as possible, starting with the overall plot. We meet Paterson (Adam Driver), a public bus driver who lives with his dream-chasing wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and her dog, Marvin, in New Jersey city Paterson (yes, the same name). He writes poetry, he drinks beer at a local bar, he wakes up without an alarm.
It’s the type of film that allows the viewer to find depth in the most unremarkable elements of daily life. On the other side of that, you can also find nothing, only thinly veiled meanings and musings coasting on a frustratingly undramatic narrative. It’s a personal film for Jarmusch, tackling the search for art, meaning and life in the everyday, which suggests it may be quite the personal film for many that watch it. That being said, this reviewer found the film’s attempts at restrained eccentricities were anything but humble, and worse still, sensed a bit of what could be construed as arthouse smugness leaking into a number of drawn out scenes.
A slow pace and a simple plot arc is by no means a precursor to a bad film. Some of the greatest films are what many may call slow, but the difference lies in just how the film unfolds within its own agenda ““ whether that be to deliver a quiet message, driving home carefully drip-fed tension, or to provide an unbiased point of view on anything in particular, as examples. The issue with Paterson is that Jarmusch’s slow detailing leads to a variety of depth-searching tidbits, little moments here and there that wish to provide little gems of wisdom, but fail to feel worth the patience-testing path or the self-aware peculiarities it placed on the road to getting there.
Paterson’s poetry could be a positive point for many, but that will come down to one’s preference regarding this particular form of poetry and poetry as a whole. There is some mild amusement and interest that arises when he’s forming the poetry in his head; we see text written out and scribbled out on screen as he goes about his daily routine. But for those that simply don’t have a deep interest in poetry, the film does little to pique it, which is needed, especially as Paterson himself is a character that keeps emoting down to a minimum.
Adam Driver puts in great work here, having to work with an ultra subdued character and screenplay. Paterson is a simple man, unassuming in his actions and expressions, but thankfully Driver makes him feel real. Although, real or not, how much one enjoys spending almost two hours with this man is a whole other story. Unfortunately, if it weren’t for Driver, the overall product would be all the poorer. As Laura, Golshifteh Farahani fares less well. Not that she puts in a bad performance, mind you, only that Laura’s cutesy aspects are driven home too hard, occasionally bordering on grating.
It’s a film made up of a number of simple moments, some of which are lightly inspired, some of which are frustratingly dull, all of which come together in a disappointing, uninteresting overall package. Arthouse pundits may find more to enjoy here, although those that often wrongly dismiss arthouse films for being arty snooze-fests, self-aware attempts at oh-so deep metaphors, unfortunately have just the right film to provide as an example.
THE REEL SCORE: 5/10