This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 1st January 2017
5 stars, Rated M, 118 mins
I’m not the first to rave about Jim Jarmusch’s latest love story, but I’ll tell you why I think it’s sending critics into paroxysms of gratitude and appreciation. Paterson feels like just the antidote we need as 2016 draws the curtain on its decimation of beloved musicians and actors, and its worldwide natural disasters, and is a welcome respite from the cynicism induced by recent months of political absurdity (politicking so absurd that if they made a movie of it, people would accuse it of being unrealistic).
Paterson is named for the titular character as well as the city in New Jersey in which the story is set. Played by Adam Driver (the indie darling who crossed over into the Star Wars universe to win plaudits as Kylo Ren), he is a gentle-natured chap who gets walked by his pet bulldog; the epitome of the working man, driving buses by day and enjoying a pint of an evening. Less typically, Paterson writes poetry in his lunch breaks, before returning to his sweetly kooky girlfriend (Golshifteh Farahani) whose unconditional support for his extra-curricular creative leanings is immensely touching.
Director Jarmusch is reportedly uncomfortable shooting sex scenes, so there’s a novel pleasure in watching an understated love affair on screen that eschews carnal simulation for companionable conversations and loving gestures like helping to pack freshly-baked cupcakes for market. Even if Jarmusch’s vampire drama Only Lovers Left Alive made romance more melodramatic (with captivating performances from Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, how could it not?), he has a knack for making the audience care about his characters as much as they patently do each other.
The other joy in Jarmusch’s work is in the details. Amidst scenes of well-observed dialogue, the camera cuts away to sneakered feet dangling on a bus, and photo frames of a character’s past life. Our unlikely protagonist encounters ordinary people who bring his quotidian life unexpected meaning. A carload of street-talkin’, white homeboys warn Paterson unthreateningly about the dangers of getting “dog-jacked”. He takes inspiration from a 12-year old poet. Throughout, Jarmusch’s quiet observations entrance the eye and hook you into the world his characters inhabit. Even when Paterson’s best “work story” is about a bus breaking down, we hang on his every word.
Simultaneously making me want to cry without ever giving me cause, watching Paterson is as soothing as reading a great book while sipping a fine ale on a leisurely afternoon.