A trifle or maybe just a tad more than that. The cream of the crop reviews for Paterson are so glowing, so ecstatic, so poetic – for a film about a bus driver who hides his gift of writing poetry to himself while his wife encourages him to make copies to share with the world – that those reviews themselves are among the most beautiful I’ve read in sometime and yet match nothing with what I saw. I believe this is a case of many critics overreaching.
Jim Jarmusch has been something of a hipster filmmaker for thirty years who shoots in a clean, crisp classical style. His storytelling method purges anything that resembles crass Hollywood clichés. It’s in theory something to admire. But in all those years, his film “Broken Flowers” (2005) with Bill Murray has been the only sublime knockout for me, and beyond that, I’ve only had moderate admiration for his western tone poem “Dead Man” (2005) and his bonkers genre hybrid of hitman with some mental issues “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” (2000), and I got the offbeat, nothing goes to plan joke of his debut “Strangers in Paradise” (1984) without ever feeling, I need that movie. Then there are many Jarmusch titles where I frankly wasted a lot of time sitting there.
With “Paterson,” I get it that this is a tranquil, placid vision of America that doesn’t really exist anymore that should. I get it that Adam Driver is playing a homespun gifted artist Paterson who never complains, never loses his cool and that we should aspire to be more like him. I get it that his beautiful Iranian wife played by Golshifteh Farahani is always home when Paterson gets home to work to greet him with food, and patience, and pleasant vibes and that maybe it’s nostalgic that we lived in an earlier age (not this one) where wives were all complacent and doting, and yet let their husbands go for a walk with their dog and to get a beer every night without hassle – well, that it was maybe a better America for the married man. I get it that in the scene where his bus breaks down and he has to use a little girl’s iPhone to call for roadside assistance, that it is foreboding of the message that this is a man that should live a little more in the NOW and backup his work, make copies, use a computer, use technology just a little bit because these are not modern obstructions but conveniences.
But where’s the dramatic tension? There is finally a punctuated dramatic incident, and Driver never lets his character boil in anger when it does happen (so admirable). A beautiful scene, one that really did warm my heart, happens on a park bench with a chance encounter with an out-of-towner from Japan. Which reminds me of the one or two impossible encounters I’ve had in my own life where random people felt plucked out of the sky, where that somebody didn’t belong in a certain time and place, yet seemed to be there for no other reason but to help shape my own life with impromptu wisdom. It was in that moment that I realized that “Paterson” wasn’t really a pretty bad movie with no transcendent moments, because here it finally had at least one transcendent moment that I’ll take with me, and that maybe in addition I was moved by one poem called “Pumpkin.” It went something like this scribbled on the screen: “My Little Pumpkin / I like to think about her girls sometimes / but the truth is / if you ever left me / I’d tear my heart out and never put it back / There’ll never b anyone like you / How embarrassing.” That did something for me, but not so much the poem about Ohio Blue Tip Matches which I felt Jarmusch tried to make too much of nothing.
At the end of the day, I didn’t marvel at “Paterson” so much as found myself tolerating it. All those critics – you’d think they were writing about how Terrence Malick in his work finds lushness in the everyday world. Well, “Paterson” is well-shot but I don’t ever feel Jarmusch finds transcendent lushness.
118 Minutes. Rated R. Note: It is inexplicably Rated R for bad language which is so brief that I failed to see how a few bad words would hurt anybody.
MEDITATIVE DRAMA / FOOD FOR THOUGHT / SPRING AWAKENING
Film Cousins: “Five Easy Pieces” (1970); “Naked” (1993, United Kingdom); “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” (2000); “Win Win” (2011).