Director: Jim Jarmusch
Stars: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani
5 (out of 5) Globes
No movie hero has given less of a crap than Paterson (Adam Driver). He wouldn’t put it like that. He’s not angry or punchy; his no-craps-given stance isn’t him rebelling against anything or anyone. And, really, he does give a crap about some things: The poetry he writes, his wife (Golshifteh Farahani), his dog, hitting the neighborhood bar every night. He likes what he likes and anything he doesn’t like he doesn’t think about. If things don’t go his way — if, say, the city bus he drives by day breaks down or someone gets raucous at the bar — he might look mildly stunned for a bit. But he’ll get over it. The Paterson abides.
Paterson’s a great character to have right now, and the movie about him — also called “Paterson,” and set in the New Jersey city of Paterson — is great to watch now, too. Very little happens, and what happens is refreshingly, soothingly mundane. We see a week in life of Paterson, each day pretty much like the last, and the one to come, and the one after that, etc, ad inf. You might not be surprised to learn it’s by Jim Jarmusch, whose films — and especially this one — revel in deadpan repetition, in long stretches of next to nothing, in letting the dead patches of life play out in real time with no hurry to ruin them. Seeing “Paterson,” preferably in a movie theater, is like going to a church when no service is in session, taking in some much-needed respite and meditation.
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That makes “Paterson” seem timely, as though it were a mere movie of the moment. It’s not. We’re quick right now to call new films — and sometimes old ones — “relevant” because they accidentally speak to the horrors of our times or, in this case, they offer temporary relief from the world’s ills. Doing that cheapens films, reduces art to something that’s ultimately (or hopefully) only transitory. Jarmusch has never done topical; his movies exist on their own plane of existence. He makes the specific, sometimes eccentric pictures he wants to.If the world suddenly deems his latest trendy, that means more people see them. That’s nice, but that’s not why they exist, and that’s not what’s great about them.
But there we go, sounding decidedly un-Paterson. Paterson wouldn’t have written all that. If you told him that the movie about him was deeply therapeutic after a crazy year, he wouldn’t get very worked up. He’d nod slightly, maybe say something like, “Neat,” then go back to whatever he was doing, which might be just sitting in his comfy chair at home, staring into space. He'd probably think it's neat, too, when you tell him the film seems to embody Jarmusch's interest in Buddhist thought, where one accepts one's cosmically insignificant place in the universe and doesn't stew in past failures or worries about the future. Paterson's life of routine isn't depressing, and maybe it isn't even heroic. He'd agree with you by giving you a shrug and a smile, then keep on keepin' on.
“Paterson” doesn’t even go out of its way to show you what a great film it about an artist — which Paterson, in a consistent but hardly ambitious way, is. Ditto that it’s also, like Jarmusch’s vampire hang-out film “Only Lovers Left Alive,” a great film about a couple. He and Farahani’s Laura are very different: Where he’s quiet, reserved, content, she’s excitable, flighty, maybe even at times a bit annoying. She’s an artist, too, and, unlike him, manages to switch focus each day, from making cupcakes to painting to trying to learn the guitar. Opposites attract, we guess, but we know Paterson loves her because he’s the kind of guy who puts his wife's picture in his lunch pail. It’s that kind of movie. We may need it now, but we'll need it always. It’ll be there for us even when times are once more good, and it will still be every bit as brilliant.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge