There are films this year that will make you laugh more than Paterson makes you laugh.
There are films this year that will make you cry more than Paterson makes you cry.
There are films that will give you more chills and more thrills and more suspense and more drama and cinematic wonder than will Paterson.
Paterson will be fortunate, if history is any indicator, to squeak out a single Oscar nomination this year, though more than a few critics have named the quiet, unassuming film to their annual lists of the year's best films.
Rest assured, however, that Paterson will rest atop this critic's own list of 2016's best films, a stellar example, actually a perfect example, of a filmmaker's vision manifesting an extraordinary work of quiet grace, sublime characterization, rhythmic dialogue and, quite simply, a stunningly perfect film that is giving me chills even as I sit here writing about it.
Paterson defies expectations. You expect Paterson to be "more" than it is, because "more" is what Hollywood always demands of even the smallest and the quietest films.
But, no. Paterson stays quiet, its genuine emotions manifesting out of the rhythms of life and dialogue and relationship and authenticity. There are no manufactured dramas to be found in Paterson, which I might best describe as the perfect manifestation of life meeting poetry on the big screen. The lead character in the film is, in fact, named Paterson (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), who drives the 23 Paterson bus in Paterson, New Jersey. He's a poet, some would call him a wannabe poet, and he idolizes Paterson's own native son, poet William Carlos Williams, whose most acclaimed poem is, you guessed it, "Paterson."
You may be thinking to yourself "It sounds like a gimmick." I assure you it is not. It is part of the brilliance of Paterson that there is a rhythm to how all of this unfolds, a subtle yet perfectly sublime rhythm to the way everything unfolds in Paterson even as we are treated to the cyclical life of a seemingly ordinary bus driver which is portrayed over the course of seven days in the film. Each day, at least of the first five, begins the same as we observe Paterson alongside his sleeping wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani, Exodus: Gods and Kings), awakening around 6am, working his daily shift, returning home for dinner with Laura and a walk of the dog, sharing a brew with friends at a local bar and, perhaps most notably, writing poetry throughout the day as he recognizes beauty and inspiration and life and wonder in everything he does and in the people that he encounters.
Paterson, the man, encounters those occasional obstacles as one is apt to discover while living in an urban setting like Paterson, New Jersey, though writer/director Jim Jarmusch wisely avoids any unnecessary conflicts or hyped up dramas. The beauty of Paterson, indeed its mastery, is that I can't for the life of me how Jarmusch makes it all work. Jarmusch makes the poetry, written by actual poet Ron Padgett, come to life in a way that has seldom been successfully captured on film. Others have tried, with mixed results with Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty most vividly coming to mind along with just about every cinematic effort they've ever made based upon Bukowski's works.
They don't come close to the way that Paterson captures the rhythm of the poetry, the words, the people, the rhythms of the city and even the way the entire film is structured. It's just perfect. Absolutely perfect.
I kept expecting some sort of tragedy to happen, though I suppose one could argue that it does occur in some artistic sense. I kept thinking that there would be some sort of heightened drama between Paterson and Laura, though I finally gave myself in to the rhythms of their relationship while thinking to myself about that tribute from Lin-Manuel Miranda where he goes "Love is love" and realizing that this is exactly how I feel while watching Paterson and Laura and this film and everything in it.
Adam Driver, portraying Paterson, is simply yet quietly extraordinary. He is unquestionably most known to America as Kylo Ren from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, an understandable fact yet in a completely different type of role he's truly exceptional here in building a character who draws you in and makes you absolutely love him.
The same is true for Golshifteh Farahani, whose character here is even more expressive and fun and adoring as she makes you fall in love with her and fall in love with her quirks and makes you believe in her dreams.
There are some cameos in the film, though they are used incredibly well such as when Method Man shows up rapping in a laundromat and Masatoshi Nagase, here providing a spark to Paterson much as he provided a spark in the film Mystery Train.
Jarmusch's band Sqürl can be heard throughout the film, their ethereal sounds at times giving the film an almost dreamy quality that has seldom been associated with Jarmusch's films. The lensing by Frederick Elmes captures both the urban edge and the poetic majesty of a working class town, while embracing its characters as human beings - nothing more and nothing less - and celebrating that as beauty.
Sometimes, true greatness lies not in the heightening of emotions or in the mastery of cinematic tools but in the authentic telling of a story and recognizing its beauty "as is." This is what happens with Paterson, a Jarmusch masterpiece precisely because Jarmusch didn't feel the need to make the story be something it wasn't meant to be. He trusted his story. He trusted these characters. He trusted these actors and he trusted his crew to bring it all to life.
With simplicity and beauty and wonder, this is exactly what happened.
There will be those who disagree, perhaps many who disagree, but for me Paterson is the best film of 2016.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic