Sunday 18 February 2018

The unsung virtues of a life lived small

* Paterson (15A, 118mins), 5 Stars
* A United Kingdom (12A, 111mins), 4 Stars
* Mum's List (12A, 101mins), 2 Stars
* South (15A, 80mins), 3 Stars

Adam Driver is superb in Paterson
Adam Driver is superb in Paterson

Paul Whitington

Not much happens in Paterson, Jim Jarmusch's drama set in small town New Jersey: a bus driver goes to work and comes home again, talks with his wife, writes a little poetry and takes the dog for a walk. But this is a work of real charm and wisdom, celebrating the unsung virtues of a life lived locally and small.

Adam Driver is Paterson, an affable bus driver rather confusingly named after the town he inhabits. Paterson, New Jersey was also the home of the poet William Carlos Williams - Paterson, the man, admires him greatly and also writes poems of his own. They're pretty good and we hear a lot of them. He composes them in his head while he's driving, musing on the daily rhythms and topography of his town.

Paterson might sound banal, even boring, but is precisely the opposite. It's a warm, beguiling film that burbles along quite beautifully. Driver is superb playing a character who proves you can be quiet, decent and hugely ambitious at the same time.

Meanwhile, with sadly serendipitous timing, A United Kingdom arrives in cinemas during this time of foment and intolerance to remind us just how very ugly naked racism sounds.

A well-intentioned and nicely made drama, it opens in 1947 and stars David Oyelowo as Seretse Khama, a southern African prince who's studying in London when he meets and falls in love with a local woman. Only trouble is, Ruth Williams is white, a fact that seems to horrify everyone from her own family to the press, British officialdom and Seretse's royal guardian at home.

At that point, the territory that would become Botswana was a British protectorate, held precariously afloat on the border with apartheid South Africa. Against all advice, Seretse marries Ruth and must endure the consequences. The casual, nonsensical logic of racism is intelligently explored by Amma Assante's film and is shown to run both ways: in London, Seretse is attacked in the street for holding a white woman's hand and Ruth is cornered by his outraged sisters in Botswana. Oyelowo and Pike are very good in the lead roles and this thought-provoking film shows how easily prejudice can become the norm.

Moments after Mum's List has started, you know you're in for a bit of a slog. In overwrought flashbacks, we watch a young family playing on a beach, but note grimly that the mother is sporting the kind of headgear women wear when undergoing chemo. Death is in the offing, though he takes his own sweet time turning up.

Niall Johnson's film is based on a true story and stars Rafe Spall and Emilia Fox as Singe and Kate, childhood sweethearts who are enjoying life with their two young boys when tragedy strikes. Kate gets cancer, leaving Singe to cope with the nightmare of contextualising her impending death for his sons.

None of this is approached linearly and, instead, memory is piled on memory as Singe attempts to accommodate this most unpalatable reality.

Mum's List has its moments and the performances are good, but, structurally, it's all over the place and the maudlin button is pressed several more times than is strictly necessary.

And finally, a word about South, Gerard Walsh's rather dreamy Irish drama starring Darragh O'Toole as a young man with a lot on his plate. Tom has grown up in rural Ireland under the protective wing of his loving father (Joe Rooney) and has never really known his mother, who left when he was small.

A talented but chronically-shy musician, Tom is trying to summon up the courage to perform at an open mic night when his dad suddenly dies.

Devastated, he decides to head for Dublin to find his mother, but his clueless innocence lands him in all sorts of bother. South is overwritten, but its tone is winning and Mr Walsh's crisp direction is promising.

Irish Independent

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