Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Written by Jim Jarmusch
Pretentious. Condescending. Slow. Boring. Uneventful. Pointless.
I’m sure all of these colourful words are being used to describe this film my many people, and while some of them may be true, does it mean that the film is terrible?
The adjectives I would prefer are meditative and observational. But slow? Uneventful? Well… Yeah I can’t disagree there. This film makes the pace of a slug seem Olympic-worthy. I certainly wouldn’t be using the word great either, or any of its cousins, much like every critic whose top-five list I have seen.
I suppose I can see why Paterson is the critic’s darling this year, as it certainly appeals to the sort of movie-lover who loves to analyse the meaning of films, what it is saying, and never-mind the entertainment value. But the ability of critics to overlook major flaws in these types of films will never cease to astound me.
The film follows a man who is a bus driver but also a poet in his spare time. That is what we have to work with here. There is more to be found than you would expect, but the premise is still very thin.
As we follow Paterson for a week, we see a subtle but accurate hint towards the culture we live in, as Paterson doesn’t own a phone, let-alone a computer. He writes his poetry into a notebook. It almost seems as if he were born in the wrong era, as again we live in a society where talents like his: creativity, literature – they aren’t accepted as a form of work; many people don’t recognise it as any kind of attribute as it isn’t worth money.
We can see this as Paterson and his wife aren’t living rich. This issue is never specifically addressed, but it lingers in the background whenever Paterson is home. Despite his wife being creative as well, neither of their outlets help them financially, hence Paterson resorting to bus driving to pay the bills.
This film also says something about relationships, and the various lows that they can bring to the fore. Paterson himself seems content with his situation, but when he leaves home it is hard not to see him as a lonely man, driving the same route each day, visiting the same bar each night, with a limited circle of friends who all seem to have things happening in life.
Unlike Paterson, who if asked wouldn’t have much to say about how he is going, as there really isn’t much going on at all in his life. It is almost sad to watch him interact with these other people who seem to have so much life in them, while he usually sits in silence at the bar, drinking his single beer for the night.
Outside his house or the bar however, Paterson seems to light up when he meets someone new.
He doesn’t fight with his wife, but one can’t help wonder if his feeling of isolation is due to his personality alone, or the fact that he is with someone who doesn’t work; someone who mirrors his passion for creativity rather than contrasting it, which would surely make for a better financial situation, and perhaps a relationship that is less… Bland.
But as well as this film paints a picture of a typical working class male, it is far from perfect. As mentioned, no one can deny that this film is extremely slow, and the almost complete lack of significant events make it a challenge to stay interested. I saw clock-watching all around me. Nothing of consequence really happens, and if it does, there is no immediate reaction to it, from the main character or anything/anyone else in the film.
The most significant events are when Paterson meets new people on his travels to and from work, and these scenes (including a fantastic back and forth with Method Man, who certainly delivers his own style of poetry) are easily the best parts of the movie, regarding dialogue rather than entertainment. This film doesn’t do entertainment.
And that is where the biggest problem lies. The understated plot and cinematography could have worked if it wasn’t obvious that Jarmusch has decided to balance this incredibly slow pace with humour; entertainment. I chuckled a bit for the first act, but the jokes are recurring and get old; there is no variety in the style of humour. It relies on a few gags that get replayed many times with diminishing results.
And not only does this get old quickly, it makes these scenes later in the film seem inane and out-of-touch with the rest of the movie. As for their dog’s random reactions to their conversations and decision-making, that was something that went right over my head. How that was funny I will never know.
Paterson is the definition of an indie art-house movie. Jarmusch is content to let the sound of silence linger, to let the simple life of Paterson hang in the air, while also subtly commenting on the society we live in. A true cure to current Hollywood blockbusters. While it certainly succeeds in being everything that a Hollywood film isn’t, it also somewhat succeeds in portraying the life of a simple man; a married man whose mental state we as viewers must try to work out. The exceedingly slow pace and repetitive jokes though give Paterson an uneven quality, and when it is slow, it is slooow. This critic’s darling is overrated, despite a very, very strong lead in Adam Driver.
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