Film Review: Paterson

The latest from writer/director Jim Jarmusch is more similar to his earlier work than his recent (but still very cool) vampire saga Only Lovers Left Alive, with a quiet, intimate tone reminiscent of Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law, Mystery Train and his other classics.

Star Adam Driver (coming on board after playing Kylo Ren in 2015’s Star Wars entry The Force Awakens) also delivers a perfectly Jarmusch-ian performance, with a characterisation so subtle and internalised that some seem to think that it’s somehow not really acting. But it most definitely is.

A bus driver in grungily lived-in Paterson, New Jersey, is also named Paterson (Driver), and he spends his days navigating the same route, listening to the strange and sometimes funny conversations of his passengers, smiling through the artistic fancies of his wife Laura (the Tehran-born Golshifteh Farahani) and walking his bulldog Marvin (as played by the late lamented Nellie). Paterson’s secret-of-sorts, however, is that a he’s a gifted poet, and his mysterious and beautiful work, mostly about his love for Laura, is read by Driver in voiceover as he writes in a notebook at every opportunity.

The character’s poems aren’t quite the crux of the story though, as Jarmusch is equally interested in the rituals of Paterson’s workaday life, the time he spends with pals at a local bar and the people he meets on the street (one of whom is another aspiring wordsmith briefly played by Method Man), as the director shies away from big dramatic revelations and hackneyed plot tricks, with scenes simply and pleasingly fading-to-black. And, into the final act, as a series of events look set to become more intense, Jarmusch actually mocks the audience’s expectations that everything is going to slide into hand-wringing drama, as Paterson remains calm and devotes all his energy to his writing.

With eclectic artistic references very much in keeping with this filmmaker’s work (as everyone from Petrarch and Emily Dickinson to Abbott and Costello and Iggy Pop are name-checked), this should please passionate Jarmusch fans, although novices might be slightly bewildered by its silences and concentration upon the eponymous character’s inner life. But no matter, as Driver’s turn here is pure poetry.

Rated M. Paterson is in cinemas now

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