Review: “Paterson”

Posted by Michael Parsons on January 5, 2017 in / No Comments


Paterson, New Jersey is the setting for “Paterson”, the new flick from existentialist auteur Jim Jarmusch, which stars Adam Driver as a character named Paterson. Existential can mean two things: one, exactly how it’s defined in the dictionary; two, there must be something deep going on here that I’m just not getting but I need a word that makes it sound like I am. I liked “Paterson”, because it’s curious and kind of fun and has fully shifted Adam Driver into an actor that I look forward to seeing. But the film most certainly falls in the latter category. I could call it wise when I mean pretentious, or I could call it a quiet observation when I mean it’s like watching paint dry. And there’s that word existential, when the plot is as elusive as a gutter pigeon.

I guess I should tell you that despite all of the bullshit language that I could throw out there when over-reading into Jarmusch’s film  and/or trying to pretend that it drove me to catharsis, that it is nevertheless a pleasant experience, and when I say it’s poetic I actually mean it. Driver’s Paterson (presumably linked to the name of his hometown some dozens of generations back—just something to ponder, but who knows), plays a public transit driver who writes poetry during the day. His patersongirlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) calls it his Secret Book, and she urges him to make copies and share them with the world and become the next great poet. His words make for a nice, artistic overlay to the minutiae.

Paterson is uncommonly kind, quiet, patient. “Paterson” chronicles roughly a week of his  life. You could set your clock by him. And you do, because he does. Every morning. He wakes up at 6:10. Later in the week, he starts to wake up at 6:30 (ish). Walks Marvin, their English Bulldog (and his arch-nemesis, ggrrrhhh) every night. Stops by the same bar to chat with Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley). Fun fact: Lou Costello was a Paterson native. The film does not diverge into anything atypical—if not for an incident with a Nerf gun, there would be nothing but innocuous things in Jarmusch’s story.  The abundance  of twins is either metaphorical, or just a strange small town phenomenon that our lead character happens to pick up on. Girlfriend Laura is a hopeless dreamer–a baker one day, aspiring country singer the next–but absorbs and embraces life and is happy.

If you are as patient and reserved and perceptive as Driver’s character, you might glean something from “Paterson”. I am none of those things, and carried from the film a general sense of pleasantness. Farahani and Driver have a palpable chemistry, one that is not over-romanticized or dramatized in traditional filmic sense, rather hidden in the idiosyncratic stuff, the habits, the way you might say good morning to someone who you’ve lived with for a long time, like trillions of molecules coming together in just the right way. How’s that for existentialism? So whether it’s pretentious and slow or wise and existential,  “Paterson” becomes fascinating in the most minute of ways.

—M. Parsons 2017

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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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