20th Century Women
January 5, 2017
Paterson (** ½) R
To state that the films of director Jim Jarmusch are slow going will probably be old news by now, at least to those familiar with the lauded filmmaker’s works. His films aren’t about plot. As such, the classic screenplay structure that’s been taught by film professors for eons is thrown out the window in the Jarmusch universe. His films are best described as being akin to watching life unfold as it would in real time, with a hidden camera capturing it for the viewer to behold.
The characters in Jarmusch’s latest film, Paterson, will fit nicely into the director/writer’s overall body of work when film scholars examine it in future years. They just go about the business of going through the motions of life, day to day, with little to no hope of growing or changing as human beings. If there is any change in the lives of the character you can’t help but feel it will be incremental, if at all. Yes, Paterson is that kind of film so those expecting some narrative filled with sweeping melodrama to carry them away should be forewarned that this is not that kind of film.
The main character in Paterson would be the aptly named Paterson as personified in the film by Adam Driver. Paterson is best described as a bus driver with the soul of a poet who also happens to live with his girlfriend in (surprise !) the city of Paterson, New Jersey.
Driver & Farahani in Paterson
He’s not just a figurative poet either. No, he’s the real deal, carrying a notebook with him at all times so as not to lose the poetic thoughts that swirl around in his head at any random moment. His girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), who spends her days in artistic pursuits as well, encourages him to publish his work. Paterson, however, seems either too uninterested or lacking in energy to do anything of the sort and so on and on it goes.
The film’s basic structure is Paterson gets out of bed, writes down some poetry, drives a bus all day, takes the dog for a walk, grabs a beer at the local pub and then retires for the evening. This routine is then repeated for nearly two hours of screen time with no dramatic crises of any sort to enliven the proceedings. Needless to say, this isn’t the kind of material that lends itself well to most movies.
Admittedly, Paterson is obviously made with heart and contains some good performances but it’s too dramatically inert for my tastes. Those more forgiving may warm up it rhythms. It all depends on how important an actual story might be when investing two hours of one’s time in a film. That will definitely be the deciding factor.
At press time, this movie is playing in several theaters in Charlotte.
20th Century Women (***) R
After a noticeable absence of over five years, director Mike Mills is back with 20th Century Women, the much-anticipated follow-up to his 2011 critical darling, Beginners. The latter film engendered lots of good will for the filmmaker upon its release and even netted an Oscar for its star Christopher Plummer as a man who declares his homosexuality after his wife dies. While Beginners was a tale of fathers and sons and coming to terms with their identity, Mills’ latest film could be described as his take on mothers and sons. In that respect it definitely has more than a passing connection to Mills’ previous film while also having its own unique identity.
The filmmaker isn’t retreading old ground here but instead spinning a new tale that’s as moving as Beginners and maybe even a bit more accomplished and satisfying.
The film is best described as an ensemble piece but the glue that holds the whole thing together is Annette Bening in yet another luminous performance as the matriarch of a make shift family of sorts. Some of the people in her universe are related by blood and some are there by circumstance but it’s obvious that all are equally important in her world.
Cast of 20th Century Women
The film takes place in 1979 and spins the tale of Dorothea Fields. Dorothea wants the best for her son, Jamie (Lucas jade Zumann) and it’s clear that she’s a bit conflicted. She’s both overprotective to a certain degree but also wants her son to be his own person. To make ends meet and partially because of her generous spirit, Dorothea rents out her house to an odd assortment of characters. These include a handyman (Billy Crudup), a social outcast with a penchant for punk rock/photography (Greta Gerwig) and her son Jamie’s secret crush, Julie (Elle Fanning). How they come touch each other’s lives and help Jamie come of age form the basis of the film.
Mills must be commended for both his attention to period detail and the quirky directorial touch that he brings to the proceedings. These are only two of the positive attributes to be found in 20th Century Women. It’s a low key affair but quietly affecting. It will most assuredly be a nice alternative in the weeks to come, when the studios are busy dumping films into theaters that were too awful to release at any other time than the dead of winter. As such, this one is a bit of a beacon of light.
This film opens January 20, most likely on screens in Charlotte or Winston-Salem.
Questions or comments? Write Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org.