2016 New York Film Festival: It takes a while to get into the rhythm that filmmaker Jim Jarmusch wants to establish with “Paterson.” Reflecting poetry as much as anything else, he manages something very unique. This is a film almost entirely about vibe – albeit alongside a captivating lead performance. It’s a risky proposition, but one that works, due in large part to the central acting on display. Jarmusch is a singular talent, so this is sort of his gentlest ambitions distilled to their core. In some ways “Paterson” is a whole new ballgame for the auteur.
“Paterson” might be Jarmusch’s most accessible flick, though it’s much smaller in scale than his last outing “Only Lovers Left Alive.” His ambitions may seem minor, but the way he goes about executing it is the same as always. You might think that “Paterson” is a world away from something like “Broken Flowers,” but the filmmaking argues otherwise. It all clearly is coming from the same artist. This feels basically perfect for a film festival environment, but it likely will play well in arthouses everywhere once it enters general release. The lifespan of this film won’t come to a close once NYFF wraps up.
This is a movie that’s more about observation than overt plot developments. We basically just follow a week in the life of a bus driver named Paterson (Adam Driver). He lives in a town of the same name with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), a free spirit with a new hobby for every day. Paterson gets up, goes to work, comes home, spends time with Laura and their dog, goes to sleep, and does it over again. It seems like a very common existence, though whenever he has a spare moment, he also works on poetry. It’s a strange yet beautiful look inside the soul of this man, who otherwise might be a closed book. We don’t know too much about Paterson, though his poems let us in.
Without question, Driver puts this film on his back and makes it as special as it ultimately is. He is fantastic here, doing tremendously effective work that never calls attention to itself. Aside from Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea,” this is the performance of the 2016 New York Film Festival so far. Driver isn’t quite as extraordinary as Affleck, but he’s still wonderful. He teases out so many interesting details that just aren’t on the page. Farahani nearly comes off as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but the vibrance of her work prevents that. She’s a bit underwritten, but it’s still a nice role. Also on hand are Barry Shabaka Henley, Method Man and more.
Jarmusch clearly wants to show you how beautiful the poetry of life can be. His direction and writing all point in that direction, with moments of sheer profoundness. The same can be said for the behind-the-scenes work, notably the tender cinematography from Frederick Elmes. Elmes and Jarmusch give “Paterson” a look that you wouldn’t expect. At times it seems like a Bruce Springsteen song come to life, even if the mood is very different. If there’s one flaw (besides a slightly slack pace), it’s that Jarmusch doesn’t quite know how to wrap things up. It simply prevents a tremendous movie from becoming a near masterpiece.
Overall, “Paterson” reflects the poetry found in life rather effectively. Jarmusch creates a very good film, with Driver elevating it to something great. It won’t be for everyone, but if you can get on its vibe, you’re in for a special little flick. Fans of Driver might not know what to make of this, but fans of Jarmusch will likely be delighted. This is one of the festival’s best movies so far and is a must-see for those who can handle a slowly paced film of this sort.