Screens

Review: "Paterson" celebrates beauty without pretension

Patterson is a story of two artists, and it's peppered with daily humor

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Jim Jarmusch's film, Only Lovers Left Alive, was a stylish tale of the epic love between two hipster vampires in Detroit. It was different, distinct, and satisfying, one of the best films of 2014.

There's nothing supernatural in Paterson, unless building a film around a reasonable, well-adjusted man in a happy marriage is too weird for this world. Paterson is a low-key, but never boring, story about a bus driver-poet and his creative, but less focused wife. It's a pleasure to watch, so much so that I've viewed the film several times since receiving a screener copy in December. Paterson is different, distinct, and satisfying, one of the best films of 2016.

Adam Driver, who is quite popular right now, plays a bus driver (yes, Driver plays a driver) named Paterson living in Paterson, NJ. On workdays he gets up with no alarm clock – his internal one works fine – and kisses his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani).


He walks to the bus depot, sometimes stopping by the Great Falls on the way to do a bit of writing. Then he gets his bus, waits for a greeting from his supervisor (who always has a list of problems when asked, "How are you?") and starts driving.

On his route he overhears bits of conversations from his passengers — about politics, relationships, philosophies, and so on. Paterson always keeps his notebook handy. He writes his poems in there, changing a word or phrase here or there to better say what he wishes to. We see his poems on screen, in his own handwriting.

The poems don't rhyme most of the time (ahem). Most of them are, on the surface, descriptions of various items, places, and situations. They are very well-written and can be enjoyed as simple word pictures or examined for other meanings. The real-life writer of the poems is Ron Padgett, a poet that attended college with Jarmusch.

At home after work, Paterson listens to Laura describe her passions. She is as animated and excitable as he is contained and even-keeled. Currently, she is involved in creating objects with patterns of black and white. Every day the patterns change; on everything from curtains to cupcakes. Paterson and Laura love each other very much.

She is always eager to hear his latest poetic work. Laura considers her husband to be brilliant and urges his to make a Xerox copy of his notebook for safety's sake. He seems disinterested bordering on resistant but finally agrees to her request that he make a backup copy by the end of the weekend.

Paterson takes place over the course of just over a week.

Each evening, Paterson takes the family's English bulldog for a walk to a neighborhood bar. He doesn't carry a phone — he considers them leashes. Paterson tethers the dog outside while he has one beer and chats/listens to Doc the bartender (Barry Shabaka Henley) or one of the regulars. Sometimes he talks with Doc about the photos on the wall — the Paterson Hall of Fame that includes Lou Costello, Allen Ginsberg, Patrick ("Puddy") Warburton, and celebrated poet William Carlos Williams, who summarized his poetic method with the words, "No ideas but in things."

Paterson is described as a comedy, but I held the word until late in this essay because I don't want you going into the theater expecting big laughs. There is humor in the film, but only the kind that occurs over the course of most of our day-to-day lives. Better to enjoy the film as a portrait of unassuming artists.

Paterson avoids sharing what he writes and is hesitant to make a backup copy, which represents what? Insecurity or fear that he isn't a real artist? A respect for, and embrace of, the ephemeral nature of art, beauty and us? And what about Laura's willingness to follow her muse without hesitation or anxiety? Do Laura and Patterson function as a yin and yang? A living, breathing poem? Or are they just a great couple in a contemplative movie that celebrates beauty without pretension?

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