Routine is both a friend and enemy in life. It makes us feel comfortable and safe, but it can ultimately begin to feel stale. When life starts to get tedious, that's when depression can take hold. Writer/director Jim Jarmusch tackles the subject matter in a way that wants the audience to relate in a way that is emotionally raw and realistically humorous. However, this is arthouse filmmaking that is a real turn off, as it comes across as being purely pretentious about life. Instead of speaking to the soul, everything about it feels constructed and cold in a way that is more frustrating than anything else.
Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey. He's an introverted man, who keeps a secret journal with a collection of poems that chronicles his feelings through this time in his life. Following several days in his life routine, Paterson learns more about his life in the context of the universe of others.
Jarmusch's screenplay has a very clear point that becomes apparent rather quickly. This is an intentionally calm and quiet screenplay that establishes its message in between the lines, which aligns with the poetry spoken via a voice-over throughout. The film holds a strong focus on Paterson, as the audience lives within the mind of its lead. It doesn't all make sense, and it doesn't have to; the problem is that this would have been much more effective as a short film. When stretched into a nearly two hour feature, it becomes exhausting. Jarmusch wants the viewer to feel as Paterson does, but it doesn't ultimately leave a worthwhile impact. While it's clear that he's meant to be an ordinary man, it doesn't make for a very engaging character that we necessarily want to follow. His girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) adds personality and humor to the film in her black-and-white decoration obsession, but it relies far too much on this to make up for how dull the rest of the narrative is.
Repetition is a theme that has been utilized in cinema for many years, but there is such a thing as too much, and Jarmusch takes it a step too far. The theme of routine replaces any sort of drama, as there is no real conflict to be found in regards to the lead character. Paterson eavesdrops on conversations on the bus and is surrounded by the personal problems of the bar patrons at an establishment he visits each night, which is the extent of this film's use of conflict. The climax of the film is extremely short-lived and the conclusion is uneventful. From this point, Jarmusch has several endings, none of which feel final. There's no denying that the film leaves viewers cold to the journey with Paterson, which should never be intentional in a film that also wants to deliver a personal experience.
Everything from the characters to the screenplay style in Paterson is a caricature of much better storytelling. There are hints that Jarmusch is telling us that we are living in the past, but perhaps that's only true of his narrative technique. It pretends to be diverse with its supporting characters, but they ultimately only enforce a stereotype that doesn't work in modern cinema. The best scenes in this feature are Paterson's moments with Marvin, his English bulldog. While even these moments are even muted to a near whisper, they manage to bring some sense of humanity to the film. Without spoiling anything, the dog's actions allow for Paterson to come to an unspoken revelation that actually works. It's just a shame that we have to trudge through a lot of nonsense to get there.
With being cast in the massive Star Wars franchise as Kylo Ren, it's refreshing to see Adam Driver return to independent cinema. He delivers a muted performance in the title role, as it fits within the confines of the film's message. He manages to project many of the character's feelings without speaking a single word of dialogue, although he could have done much more with this role, if given a stronger screenplay. Golshifteh Farahani is fitting as Laura, who surely adds the most personality to the film, but it isn't enough to save this from what it becomes.
Some may appreciate the film's calm and repetitive nature, but most will surely be turned off by it. There's no real drama and there are no stakes, as this is more of a piece of prose than it is cinema. The characters are forgettable, as we're never provided with any reason to care about Paterson or any of the supporting characters. This is tedious filmmaking that would have been much more effective as a short than a full-length feature. The film has its chuckle-worthy moments, although writer/director Jim Jarmusch's use of repetition doesn't do the film any favors. Paterson is emotionally cold and inaccessible down to its brittle bones. Skip it.
Paterson will be playing at AFI FEST 2016 presented by Audi on November 12th and November 16th.