DVD Review - Paterson

Besides being nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 69th Cannes Film Festival, what is more interesting is that writer-director Jim Jarmusch's 12th narrative feature won what's called the "Palm Dog Award" at that same festival. The award goes to the best performance by a canine (live or animated). The award was particularly notable because it recognized Nellie, the English bulldog who received the award posthumously, the first dog to do so. Nellie died from cancer at age 8 shortly after shooting wrapped. A Broadway animal-trainer discovered Nellie and put her on tour with the show Legally Blonde: The Musical before she was picked to be in this film.

Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Inside Llewyn Davis) stars as Paterson, a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, which is about 20 miles northwest of Manhattan. He's married to a beautiful woman named Laura, played by Golshifteh Farahani (Body of Lies and About Elly). They live in a small house with their dog Marvin, played by the aforementioned Nellie the bulldog.

The movie follows a week in Paterson's life. We see his day-to-day activities, which are very routine and repetitive. He gets up a little after dawn and goes to work. He drives the city bus all day and afternoon. He walks home. He spends some time with his wife. He then takes his dog for a walk to a local bar where he has a beer and hangs out before returning home to bed and doing the same thing all over again the next day.

Each day, he thinks up and writes down poetry. His poetry has no rhyme, no measurable meter. His poetry could almost be read as prose. Mostly, his poems are observational and about his relationship with Laura. His first is an analysis through his descriptions of a Ohio Blue Tip matchbook. His voice-over of his poetry is the most one hears of him. He barely speaks otherwise. He mainly listens. He eavesdrops in fact on conversations of bus passengers or people at the bar or even people rapping in laundromats.

None of it informs anything else, except to underline that Paterson likes or needs to listen and observe people. Occasionally, something will happen to break up Paterson's day. He meets a little girl one day after work. Another day, his bus breaks down. A day after that, a guy becomes threatening at the bar. None of it though is dramatic or builds to any kind of idea or central theme.

It's nice to see a film that is devoid of drama. It could just be a really, really easygoing comedy. Yet, the humor is really, really hushed, subtle and almost muted. For example, Laura makes Paterson a new dish for dinner. He eats it and doesn't really like it. Other comedies would really make that fact well known. Jarmusch instead lets that fact fly really below the radar.

That kind of low-key humor could be too low-key. On the other hand, the way Jarmusch paces the film and provides such a limited score, that low-key humor could occasionally work. He accentuates the low-key humor or elevates as best he can. It would have been elevated better if Jarmusch had introduced some kind of conflict or tension, the basis for most drama.

For example, Laura wants to buy a guitar that might be too expensive for Paterson to afford. Yet, Laura buys it anyway. Laura says she has this dream of being a country singer. Paterson makes an off-hand comment about this being her latest dream, which she might be fickle about. He seems to work only to support her dream whatever it might be, at the expense of him pursuing his. She pushes him to pursue it, but he hesitates. There's no explanation as to why but Jarmusch lays down the groundwork for the couple to argue or come to a head about it, but Jarmusch never goes there.

In a way, it leaves Paterson as a bit of an enigma. At one point, there is a reference to Emily Dickinson. Paterson isn't a recluse and he can be very charming, but he seems to be a Dickinson-type where he has no interest in sharing his work. He reads his stuff to his wife, but he has no seeming aspirations beyond that. All he requires are his routines and not much more. As a movie, one might require more but Jarmusch doesn't provide it.

Rated R for some language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 58 mins.


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