Paterson

reviewed by wei jie lam

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Jim Jarmusch's new film is one that goes against Hollywood conventions. It is a rather quiet, pleasant affair. For one, our main character does not have a goal, there is very little conflict and drama that occurs throughout the film. However, with Paterson, Jarmusch once again proves that a film can celebrate the everyday minutiae of life.

The film centres around Paterson (Adam Driver), a quiet bus driver who lives in Paterson, New Jersey. He lives with his adoring wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). Each day, Paterson gets up early to go to work, eats a bowl of Cheerios, and drives the bus. When he comes home after work he then takes his wife's pet pitbull out for a walk and makes a stop at the local bar for a drink, where he observes the owner Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley) interacting with a variety of friendly patrons. Paterson writes poetry before each shift in his secret notebook and in between breaks. Laura urges him to share his poetry to the world, however he has no desire to do so as he finds writing poetry to just be a part of his life that he enjoys. Funnily enough it turns out that Adam Driver's portrayal of Paterson comes across as a gentle and generous soul, a huge contrast to the vulnerable portrayal of Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens. 

Throughout the day, Paterson observes the world around him, from the passengers on the bus to the beauty of Ohio Blue Tip matchboxes, sometimes drawing influences from these observations for his poetry. Paterson's poetry appears on screen throughout the film as simple squiggly handwriting when he writes. Instead of having the poems be purposely bad for comedic intent or inadvertently revealing aspects of Paterson himself, like a typical approach in perhaps another film, Paterson's poetry is just a facet of who he is, someone who just also happens to writes poems for his own enjoyment. What is conveyed in the film very effectively is a natural invitation to share a moment of observation with Paterson and appreciate that the mundane is in fact rather beautiful, through Jarmusch's very distinct aesthetic.

While the film is set in reality, the tone is somewhat whimsical. The streets are strangely uninhabited except for when Paterson comes into contact with strangers who appear in cameo-esque roles. Paterson's week is especially dipped in serendipity. For example, Paterson starts noticing twins after his wife tells him about a dream she has about twins. Later on in the film, while Paterson is walking his dog, a crew of gang members pull up to Paterson and ask him questions about his pet. However our suspension of disbelief is not completely lifted, rather that we accept these almost surreal events as part of Patterson's life, which remains to be repetitive in structure but far from dull. Paterson's blissful relationship with Laura does however exasperate as it is suffocatingly sweet. Laura has a love for monochrome, and it is seen through the decor of the house, the colour scheme of her cupcakes and even her desire for Paterson to buy her a monochrome guitar. It is fairly questionable how Paterson puts up with her at times.

This is a film where not much happens. Even a brief altercation in the bar has little consequence, only giving little insight into Paterson's military past, and leaving us to speculate. Ultimately inconsequential moments are extremely compelling to observe. The audience throughout the movie feels the same amusement and appreciation of these moments as Paterson experiences, perhaps even more clearly. Its appeal is subtle, its delight comes from the mundane, and that's what you will find so rewarding about it.