Paterson (2016)
Paterson (2016)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 58 min.

Release Date: December 28th, 2016 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Jim Jarmusch Actors: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Nellie, Rizwan Manji, Barry Shabaka Henley, Trevor Parham, Troy T. Parham, Chasten Harmon




n a Monday morning, Paterson (Adam Driver) awakes with his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), who recounts a dream about twin children. He eats breakfast, then walks to a bus garage where he works as a transit driver in Paterson, New Jersey. In his spare time, he jots down bits of poetry in a journal, which seem to fill up with the most mundane observations about the most trivial of things.

His current work is entitled “Love Poem,” which begins with the verses: “We have plenty of matches in our house. We Keep them on hand always. Currently our favorite brand is Ohio Blue Tip, though we used to prefer Diamond brand.” Laura sees them as lovely works, but Paterson is too modest to want to share them with the world. She has her own interests as well, doing interior decorating projects and dreaming of having her own cupcake business (“We could be rich from cupcakes”) and being a famous country singer. She’s also quite fond of her pet bulldog, Marvin.

When Tuesday rolls around, the routine hardly changes. The people with whom he speaks remain the same, the chores and jobs are repeated, and even specific activities – like eavesdropping on bus passengers’ conversations – aren’t significantly different. In the world of “Paterson,” all of these seemingly inconsequential, ordinary, almost boring happenings provide inspiration for the titular character’s poetry. But for the audience, it’s occasionally a source of tedium; especially when he repositions the leaning mailbox over and over again, or ties up Marvin outside a bar, despite the clear indication that this rare breed might be prone to “dogjacking.”

Director Jim Jarmusch is evidently trying to tell a story rife with symbolism (twins and icons of duality appear frequently) and imagery to match the perpetual scribblings that persuade Paterson to move through life with a positive outlook; or, rather, Jarmusch wants to portray artistry with moving images in place of a traditional story. With this persona and profession, the film could surely have been more reminiscent of the bitter influences of Charles Bukowski. Instead, there’s an easygoing mood about it, plenty of shots of scenery and structures, and unhurried meditations on faces, objects, and movements. Slow-motion, montages, overlaid shots, and sped-up time hope to spruce up the unstimulating nature of it all, especially as a microscopic dissatisfaction seems to brew underneath the contentedness of Paterson’s disposition. With the touches of humor and awkwardness and potentially pent-up emotions, “Paterson” could almost be a film about the origins of a serial killer.

Is this a film about poetry? Or relationships? Or opposites? Or some strange dichotomy of life itself? The poems in the film aren’t particularly moving or inspiring (despite being written by a genuine contemporary poet; poetry is obviously a highly subjective art form), and Paterson’s actions are never profound. It’s not just un-cinematic, it’s also overlong and uneventful. If there was some deep meaning to this methodical, slice-of-life tale, perhaps the very mild highs and lows would have amounted to something significant (and if there was, it’s cryptic to a staggering degree). But instead, it’s so understated and quiescent that the only notable aspect is Adam Driver’s performance, which is entirely convincing as an average man merely going through the motions of thinking, reflecting, watching, and … just existing. He may be pleasant, but his world is quotidian; the life of this poet is exhaustingly ordinary. That may be the point, but Jarmusch is more consumed with making an abstruse statement than providing entertainment or engaging beauty. Surely this is what causes Paterson’s writing to be so insipid.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10