In the fight to grab moviegoers' attention, a good many films tend to muscle in—crowding our theaters with raffish and all-too-often bawdy offerings that offer oversized promises of something "beaming" (Trolls), "dazzling" (Passengers) or "a fun-fueled hybrid of live action and CGI" (Monster Trucks). Sadly, the studios were wrong on all counts.
Then, ever so softly, in glided Paterson—the gentlest of films and, bar none, the best movie about poetry, bus-driving and New Jersey I've seen... well, ever.
Seriously, it's a lovely film, but my sense is it will need a bit of love from its audience to hold a place at the local theater when it opens Friday, Feb. 3 in Boise. A word of caution: no one gets hurt in Paterson, none of the characters are ridiculous or obscene, and none of the world's problems will be solved. Nothing bad happens to anyone in Paterson. That, in of itself, makes this film wondrous and lyrical. Even life affirming. For sure, Paterson may not upend the current landscape of moviemaking, but I promise you will not soon forget its poetry—figurative and literal—any time soon.
Paterson takes place (where else?) in Paterson, the non-descript New Jersey town that goes about its daily business without any real consequence. Paterson is also the last name of the film's lead character (we never learn his first name).
Each morning, Paterson rolls away from the warm embrace of wife, Laura; reaches for his perfectly-folded clothes laid out on a nearby chair; eats a small cup of Cheerios; packs a lunch box; and walks to his downtown job, driving a bus for New Jersey Transit. During a routinely serene lunch break each day, Paterson sits by a waterfall and writes poetry. At the end of each day, he returns home to Laura's hugs and kisses, takes his bulldog Marvin for a walk, stops by a corner bar for one beer and returns home.
I can't say "spoiler alert" here, because there isn't anything to spoil. That's about it. But take heart—all of it is quite lovely.
The titular Paterson is Adam Driver, the red-hot young actor who has been burning up the small screen in HBO's Girls for the past six years (the series' final season is set to begin later this month). Driver also happens to be a big part of a little something called Star Wars, in which he plays the deliciously evil antagonist Kylo Ren. Here, in place of a lightsaber, Driver wields a stubby pencil, etching his tiny poems in a small notebook that he's reluctant to show anyone except, occasionally, his wife.
"I really think you should do something about those beautiful poems," urges Laura, played by luminous Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani. "You should share them with the world."
Paterson—the man and the movie—has a dreamlike quality. With the recurring presence of twins of all shapes and sizes mysteriously populating Paterson's world—on his bus, at the corner bar—a viewer might be inclined to think the people who surround him may be a figment of his fertile imagination.
Such dreams have been regularly explored by Jim Jarmusch, the genius writer and director of Paterson. Time and again, Jarmusch's films (Stranger Than Paradise, Night on Earth, Coffee and Cigarettes, Only Lovers Left Alive), have journeyed on an artistic back road usually reserved for poetry. So, in a tangible way, many of those back roads have perfectly led Jarmusch to Paterson and its poetry.
I would be remiss if I didn't point out Paterson's poetry is that of poet extraordinaire Ron Padgett, who burst on the scene in the 1960s with the avant-garde literary journal The White Dove. I'm fairly certain Padgett's poems should enjoy a mini-renaissance with this reborn admiration of his work.
Ultimately, audiences should gravitate to Paterson for its gentility. It's an oasis of calm in our tumultuous times—in life and at the movies.