This movie took me a while to get a handle on, but I think I’ve finally figured it out. It’s a celebration of mundanity and repetition, about the the relief of the predictable and the joy of unfulfilled art. That’s my interpretation anyway, I’m not still not sure how much I like it.
Paterson comes from writer/director Jim Jarmusch, who has been a real mixed bag for me in his prior works. Adam Driver stars as Paterson, a bus driver who also lives in Paterson, New Jersey. The name choice is odd and barely explained, but it’s a metaphor of reflection, the hometown reflecting himself. Paterson seems normal and staid, predictable and pleasant, but there’s always the possiblity of something below the surface.
Paterson lives with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), a flighty, artsy sort who always has another new creative idea or notion. Her latest is learning the guitar, but despite the expense of lessons, Paterson is supportive. He has his own secret art, although his wife knows all about it. Paterson keeps a notebook where he writes poetry of varying degrees of quality, some evocative, others trite.
But his day is always the same, he wakes up, eats the same breakfast, drives the same route, goes home, takes the dog for a walk, drinks in a bar, and goes back home for dinner. At first it seems oddly cloying, but the mild variations begin to paint a picture of a man’s life with a complicated background. The specifics are never explained, but there is something in the past of Paterson that drives him to avoid risk or change.
And yet his art also drives him, a way to express his thoughts, dark and light, about love, life, or nature. The reflection continues as Paterson begins to see twins over and over, with no explanation given. My theory is that it is showing the twin reflection themes, the contrast and the parallel. Paterson versus the city, Paterson the present versus his past. Twins look the same but could be completely different.
Adam Driver gives a very strong performance here, in a movie that keeps him in nearly every frame. He plays it soft and very subtle, but sincere and honest. Golshifteh Farahani plays Laura with such an outsize personality, at times it borders on parody, but overall she’s good. There are other little side characters, but most are just background noise until they crystallize into story points.
The movie has a dreamy quality to it, and I think there’s a strength to the writing that is helped by Jarmusch’s direction; he can hide the flaws and make the whole thing flow better. Overall, the movie left me puzzled but mostly pleased that I saw it. It’s such a “slice of life” sort of thing, I can’t imagine most people would really want to see it, let alone enjoy it.
The movie is just one of those indie flims that will come and go, with the main point giving Adam Driver a bit more indie cred for his next project. Not that he really needs it.
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