Jake Richardson | 02/01/2017
Small but beautiful, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is an introspective piece of poetry anchored by a subtle, grounded and exquisite performance from Adam Driver.
Paterson gives us a look at the life of Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver in the New Jersey suburb of Paterson. In his spare time, he writes poetry in his secret notebook. The film deals with the small victories and defeats of his daily life as we follow he and his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) for a week. We also get exposed to the miniature poetry in every aspect of daily life.
Jim Jarmusch’s first film since 2013’s Only Lovers Left Alive is remarkably quiet. It is undeniably slow paced and inward-looking, but also undeniably gripping. We look at so much of Paterson’s poetry, but the film as a whole functions as a piece of poetry itself. There are certain repetitions of lines, juxtapositions of colours and common threads that run throughout and remind one of the poetry of the title character himself.
One scene in particular is a visualisation of observational poetry, as Paterson sits at a bar and has his interest captured by a series of different sounds and sights. Jarmusch also paints Paterson’s words on the screen as the poet is writing them, with Driver’s voiceover spluttering and halting like one’s internal monologue as they write.
While the supporting actors, none of whom are particularly well-known, give varying degrees of performance, they are all outshone by Adam Driver. The actor, probably best known for his performance as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, dominates the film with a quiet, nuanced performance. He doesn’t have many lines (indeed, his girlfriend speaks much more than he does), but he inhabits the character so well that we as an audience don’t need audible dialogue to know what he is thinking or feeling. His small smirks as he listens to conversations on his bus, or a slight pause before he readjusts his fallen mailbox yet again convey to us exactly what is running through the characters mind. It is so underplayed and so understated that it isn’t even really until you walk out that you realise just how little is actually spoken in the piece, and how much is instead conveyed by his mannerisms.
While it does have one of the best canine performances of the year, Paterson doesn’t have much of a structured story, or much excitement. What is does have is a unique story structure that highlights a masterclass in direction and performance that might have been lost to a more structured story.
Don’t go in expecting the next Avengers. Paterson, much like it’s title character, is thoughtful, quiet and intense, but it is also a worthwhile piece of viewing due to spectacular direction and an utterly exquisite performance from Adam Driver.