I had stopped going to SDSU after completing a broadcasting school and getting a job at my first radio station. It was 1989. I was obsessed with movies and music, and when I watched an episode of Siskel & Ebert they raved about writer/director Jim Jarmusch’s third film Mystery Train. I loved the Elvis song, and this was an indie movie with Joe Strummer, a singer from a band I love — The Clash. They cast Tom Waits as a DJ, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (I Put a Spell on You) as the desk clerk at a fleabag motel. It had three stories, each one sneaking Elvis’s version of Blue Moon in. After watching it, I left the theatre wondering why it was so praised. The narrative and stories were somewhat interesting, but not great. And with each Jarmusch film, it’s the same thing. Critics praise the pictures, and I shake my head, thinking they were okay, but hardly great. This year he did the documentary on Iggy Pop (Gimme Danger). Great subject, poor documentary. A few years ago, it was a boring vampire picture called Only Lovers Left Alive.
One of the rare years he had two movies, I liked them both (although again, they weren’t great films). Those were Broken Flowers (Bill Murray) and Coffee & Cigarettes in 2005.
Now comes Paterson, which is getting raved reviews (currently 96% on Rotten Tomatoes), with many critics putting it on their “best of” lists for 2016. My wife and I watched it and I promptly put it on my “most boring movies of 2016” (we watched it a few months ago).
You know how much fun we had watching the same day repeat in Groundhog Day? Well, in this movie, the same day repeats. Not like that. They take a week in the life of a bus driver, although his routine each day is the same.
As the movie started, I thought it was odd that Adam Driver was playing a bus driver. He played a man named Paterson, who lives in Paterson, New Jersey. That’s because of the poem Paterson by William Carlos Williams (it’s also the town Allen Ginsberg grew up in). And with Paterson writing poetry daily, this is clearly Jarmusch’s love letter to poetry. It’s a shame Paterson’s poetry wasn’t very good (despite a successful poet, Ron Padgett, providing the prose). It’s also a shame that nothing interesting happens in his day. This is a film that has so little drama, it’s dull.
I think quiet films can be enjoyable. There doesn’t have to be a lot of action. I just reviewed Julieta and adored it. This is just so solemn and slow.
Paterson wakes up each morning at 6:15, before the alarm. He stares at his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). He watches her for a few minutes, before his delicious breakfast of Cheerios, and a walk to the bus depot. He doesn’t seem to pay much attention to his English bulldog Marvin, which in my book, makes him kind of a jerk. I’m undecided if his relationship with his wife makes him a jerk. He seems disinterested in her. He’s quiet. She’s a bundle of energy, always with a different idea for a business. That might be being a baker, or a country music singer. We were wondering if she was a mail order bride, and he didn’t realize what he had gotten into.
He straightens his mailbox. He notices all the things around him in his city. He deals with a manager at work, and jots poems into a notebook. His wife is supportive and always tells him how great they are. He’s less supportive of her wanting to buy a guitar they can’t afford, to become a musician. At that point, I wondered why she was made so ditzy. It makes us uninterested in anything this couple has to say or do. And just like he’s a bad poet (although many that have reviewed the film claim the poems were brilliant), we are left wondering if her art is supposed to be good. It basically involves lots of circles painted on things, like the tablecloth or shower curtains.
In the course of Paterson’s day, he observes the city he drives and walks in. He listens to fragments of conversations from the bus passengers (none of which are all that interesting). He goes into the bar at night for a beer, when he’s supposed to be walking the dog (who would leave their dog tied to a tree while you’re inside drinking?). Oh, and we’re supposed to love these eccentric characters. I suppose the bartender (Barry Shabaka Henley) is interesting at times, but nobody else is. Oh, and when one guy (William Jackson Harper) in the bar starts waving a gun and threatening an ex-girlfriend…I suppose we’re all suppose to still think he’s just a regular guy, going through a rough patch. Instead of calling the cops or feeling threatened, simply because he’s a regular. And when Paterson sees a young girl (Sterling Jerins) sitting by herself outside a sketchy warehouse, it’s nice of him to sit with her until her mom arrives. It’s just strange that when the mom arrives, it’s no biggie to her that an adult male is sitting there. Oh, and she also loves poetry, because this movie is about poetry. I suppose it’s also about how we can all have humdrum lives but we should seek out the beauty and poetry in life. Maybe next time I light one of my cigars, I’ll write a poem about that Cuban stogie and how glorious it is to slip that delicious thing into my mouth. Dang it. Just with that line, I realize I’m no Lord Byron.
There are a few stabs at humor. For example, Paterson sees a lot of twins once his wife tells her she had a dream that they had twins.
I thought of the indie movie Trees Lounge, written, directed, and starring Steve Buscemi (who was also in Mystery Train). The characters hanging out in that bar were interesting. Funny things were said, and we liked the main character, despite his flaws. There was actually a little bit of drama, too. This movie had nothing.
You wonder if he’s in a loveless marriage, but on one message board, fans of the film debated it. Many said the way he looked at her, shows how much he cherished her. The others claim he despised her. If he loved her so much, why did he never talk to her? He just seemed to humor her when she had the latest business she wanted to start, or he’d retreat to the basement to write poetry. And seriously, there shouldn’t be debates about how characters feel about each other. We’re intelligent adults watching a movie. This isn’t rocket science. And if you’re spending all this time with these characters and can’t figure out why, there’s a problem.
One more Mystery Train mention. Masatoshi Nagase, who plays the punker from Japan who constantly argued with his girlfriend over who was the king of rock ‘n roll (he prefers Carl Perkins to Elvis)….he makes an appearance. That was a pleasant surprise.
This movie was nothing but minimalistic, melancholy malarkey. It dealt with poetry, cupcakes, and starred Adam Driver. Those are the perfect three things to me. Yet I was bored to tears, and defy anybody to go see this and tell me they enjoyed the experience.
I have a friend named Mike Tomasulo that’s a bus driver. As funny as he is, I wouldn’t want to spend two weeks watching him wake up in the morning and eat Cheerios everyday. Yet I can guarantee, watching him for two hours would be a lot more interesting than watching Paterson. It felt like the longest film I’ve ever seen.
I’d like to take one of those Diamond Brand matches Paterson wrote so eloquently about….and burn this script.
It gets 1 star out of 5.