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Paterson - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B-
Acting: B
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B-

Watching Paterson with a critical eye, one can see how it's gained nearly universal critical acclaim. This movie, by writer-director Jim Jarmusch (who also did Only Lovers Left Alive -- a radically different movie, albeit with a vaguely similar tone), could understandably be considered cinematic poetry, at least by cinema and/or film snobs, anyway. This is one of those films beloved by critics that I cannot imagine recommending to a single person I know. Okay, maybe a single person. Just one.

Even calling Paterson "poetic" is a little on the nose, given that Adam Driver literally plays a poet in it. Not one who makes a living at it, of course. Who does? Instead, he drives a bus, in Paterson, New Jersey. His real first name also happens to be Paterson. We follow along on his daily routine for a full week, title cards showing us each day as it begins. With a run time of 118 minutes, that's 16.8 minutes per day. It's kind of like watching a collection of short films, each of them 16 to 17 minutes long, all of them rather similar. You might think that something major would happen on one of these days. Nope. The most exciting thing that happens -- spoiler alert! -- is Paterson's bus breaking down on Friday.

I spent a lot of time watching Paterson wondering what the hell the point was. Why am I watching this? Does it have to do with the city? Evidently Paterson, New Jersey has a population of nearly 148,000 people. It is part of the New York City metropolitan area and has the highest population density of any U.S. city outside of New York. Paterson, the character, has a favorite poet in William Carlos Wlilliams, who wrote a five-book epic poem called Paterson. These little facts are moderately interesting to me, but perhaps not to many others. I get the feeling the film may have a deeper meaning that flew over my head, and perhaps speaks directly to those more intimately familiar with these poetic works.

By that standard, though, Paterson is a rather esoteric work unto itself. This is no crowd pleaser. It's a slice-of-life look at an average man and his mundane existence. He writes poetry in what he calls his "secret book," and we hear him recite them in voice-over at the same time we see the lines written across the screen. Poetry is wildly subjective. Not one of these poems spoke to me. For some reason, they speak to Paterson's cupcake-baking, country-music-career-dreaming girlfriend (Golshifteh Farahani). Every day, we see him wake up next to his girlfriend; eat breakfast; drive his city bus; eavesdrop on ultimately inconsequential conversations between passengers; have dinner with his girlfriend; and take his dog on a walk to the bar where he has a beer every evening. As each day goes by, you wonder if some deeper meaning will be revealed in all of this. It never happens, which may very well be the point. That does not on its own make it a compelling movie-going experience.

That said, there is nothing to dislike about any of these characters. None of them are teeming with charisma, but Paterson and his girlfriend, the bartender, even the bus riders -- they are all pleasant enough. And there is indeed a wonderful scene near the end of the film when Paterson meets a Japanese visitor who also turns out to be someone with an appreciation for poetry. There is real poetry in this scene, and the exchange between those characters. When Paterson mentions that his is a bus driver in that city, he is told, "There's poetry in that." It's at this point that all this seemingly mundane stuff we've been watching comes close to making sense.

On the other hand, Jarmusch also pointedly takes a line from a poem to pose a question rather pointedly to us: "Would you rather be a fish?" And most of this movie's audience is left to wonder . . .

. . . what?

Adam Driver is a driver and Paterson in PATERSON.

Overall: B-
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