Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Review: Paterson

Cert: 15 / 118 mins / Dir. Jim Jarmusch / Trailer

There's only one way to round off a day watching movies about the recently bereaved wife of an assassinated president and a psychopath with 23 personalities, and that's with a film about a quiet week in the life of a bus driver who writes poetry when he's not at the wheel.

Don't tell me I don't know how to enjoy a Saturday night.

While it's never quite 'Yellow Poster Movie Quirky', Jim Jarmusch's Paterson is quietly charming and funny without being needy, and very comfortable with its own identity. Adam Driver takes the lead in the eponymous role, playing the aforementioned poetic transport operative named Paterson, who lives and works in the city of Paterson, New Jersey. Seven titled segments make up his week as we see his interactions with friends, colleagues and partner, Laura, and we follow the patterns and irregularities of Paterson's life through the things which inspire his poetry.

While I wouldn't say I was bored by any of what we see, there's certainly a rhythmic soporific quality to Jarmusch's direction and Affonso Gonçalves's editing. Although there are tonal shades of Groundhog Day here, the film - much like the central character's writing - goes more for an irregular thematic echo than rigid rhyming and repetition*1. Visually, it's a film about finding the beauty in the minutiae of everyday life. Which is fine, except the mundane largely bores me (no matter how intricate), which is why I spend half my time in the cinema trying to distract myself. The relationship between Paterson and his girlfriend Laura reminded me a little of Butch and Fabienne in Pulp Fiction, except they both appear to have social and developmental issues which undercut the heart of the movie for me.

While Paterson's quiet exasperation is a recurring source of gentle humour, I have to admit to being more anxiously preoccupied with the cyclical claustrophobia of his life, and the feeling that things were about to go disastrously wrong at any moment (the veiled threat of dog-theft, the gun stand-off etc). Although those thoughts are undoubtedly cued up by Jarmusch's screenplay, I realise that the prolonged negative-projection lies squarely with the viewer, ie: me, not unlike a cinematic Rorschach test. Do these bad vibes not bother Paterson? Has his worldview managed to help him rise about such worries, seeing as much as he does of human life on a daily basis? Or is he conversely insulated from larger reality to the point where he's just not picking them up?

Oh, and why isn't the on-screen text of Paterson's poetry in Adam Driver's handwriting, like the notebook we see? They've just used a script-typeface, which is glaringly obvious in words which feature double-letters. I wasn't expecting it to be a stroke-by-stroke recreation of his notebook scrawl, but it wouldn't have been that much to get Driver to sit down with a fineliner for half an hour then scan his writing, would it? The film's meant to be about Paterson's unique worldview, after all. While it's an extreme example, it reminded me of people who write their name in Brush Script at the bottom of an e-mail and get excited at the prospect of having a photo of themselves printed onto a mug.

Short version: I either kinda liked Paterson or quite loved it. I'm not sure which, but I suspect it'll sit in both camps, much like that Coen Bros flick that Driver also starred in.

But if Paterson is driving a bus out of the depot in the city of Paterson, why does it say 'Paterson' on the front? Who's that helping? You wouldn't get on a bus at Worswick Street that said Newcastle on the destination-plate, now would you?*2

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
This would make a good (and lighter) companion-piece to Inside Llewyn Davis.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
You've probably missed your chance now, to be fair, but it's really a Sunday-night DVD anyway.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think so.
Not sure at this point.
But I think so

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
*raises hand*
I haven't seen any other Jim Jarmusch films.
Don't think this is Driver's defining moment, though

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Not at all.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not at all.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Kylo Ren's in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Although since I'm on the subject, I should say that I appreciated this more in the film-making than I did in the actual poetry. Even allowing for its freeform style, what Paterson is writing is far closer to rambling, twee prose. You can't make something poetry just by saying "oh yeah, and it's poetry" any more than you could build a shed and pass it off as a castle...

*2 Actually, you wouldn't, as that station's been out of service for nineteen years, now. Oh yeah, that's how up-to-date my references are...

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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