I, Daniel Blake

(UK/France/Belgium 2016)

I Daniel Blake.jpg

Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake has gotten a lot of attention and praise. Good: it wrestles with a topic that’s timely on both sides of the Atlantic—and elsewhere, for that matter. A political and poweful message, Loach has touched many a nerve. Case in point: I, Daniel Blake won the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, where it finished with a 15-minute standing ovation (http://variety.com/2016/film/global/palme-dor-ken-loach-rebecca-obrien-1201785482/). 15 whole minutes?! Wow.

Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a kind of antihero. He’s gruff, he’s private, he’s not handsome or young. He probably goes to church. A heart attack seems like the thing that would change his life, but what really does is a new neighbor (Hayley Squires) and her two kids (Briana Shann and Dylan McKiernan).

I didn’t stand up, but I get it. Bureaucracy versus common sense is always fertile ground for storytelling. I applaud Loach for what he’s saying here, I really do. I, Daniel Blake is a good film: it’s engaging, brave, and relatable. The acting is good all around. So is the premise.

In my opinion, though, it just isn’t a great film. We’re talking shades of meaning here, so if you have five seconds to spare, I’ll tell you why. First, I’ve seen this device many times before—in the last year, even. A cranky old man meets a character that represents youth and hope, and it totally melts the icy facade and changes his life. Well, OK. This sense of hope is usually personified by the very person society looks down on. Next?

Second, I saw where the plot was going way before I got there. Again and again. Predictability is never groundbreaking.

Third, I can’t help but think that this film takes the easy way out. A heart attack in a movie ends only one way. And it’s only a sad ending. Yeah, I, Daniel Blake is emotionally manipulative.

So, my issues center on Paul Laverty’s writing. I wish I had a better way to tell this story. I don’t. For all its pluses and minuses, though, I’d rather watch something more intense. Overall, I, Daniel Blake is disappointingly soft.

With Kate Rutter, Sharon Percy, Kema Sikazwe, Steven Richens, Amanda Payne, Chris Mcglade, Shaun Prendergast, Gavin Webster, Sammy T. Dobson, Mickey Hutton, Colin Coombs, David Murray, Stephen Clegg, Andy Kidd , Dan Li, Jane Birch, Micky McGregor, Neil Stuart Morton

Production: Sixteen Films, Why Not Productions, Wild Bunch, British Film Institute (BFI), BBC Films, Les Films du Fleuve, Canal+, Ciné+

Distribution: Entertainment One Films (UK), Le Pacte (France), Cinéart (Belgium/Netherlands), Cinema (Italy), Feelgood Entertainment (Greece), Prokino Filmverleih (Germany), Scanbox Entertainment (Denmark), Sundance Selects (USA), Transmission Films (Australia), Vertigo Média Kft. (Hungary), Canibal Networks (Mexico), Cine Canibal (Mexico), Imovision (Brazil), Mont Blanc Cinema (Argentina), Longride (Japan)

100 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) B



(USA 2016)

Not a lot happens in Jim Jarmusch’s new film Paterson—it is, to borrow from Seinfeld, a show about nothing. Starting on a random Monday, the story follows Paterson (Adam Driver)—a Paterson, New Jersey, city bus driver and closet (or in this case, basement) poet—through his daily routine for a whole week. He finds inspiration in the simplest things: passengers, barflies, Ohio Blue Tip matches. He works it all into his “secret notebook” of poetry, scribbled in sidebars onscreen. Some of it is interesting, some not so much.

Jarmusch throws a lot out there: never mind the recurring parallels between Paterson and those he encounters—there’s imagery of twins, waterfalls, circles, and fireballs. Attempting to infer a weighty point in all of it, though, is probably an exercise in futility; this is fluid stream of consciousness. The story is more a string of vignettes: Paterson’s wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), orders a guitar online and later serves Brussels sprout and cheddar pie for dinner; the bus Paterson drives breaks down; a situation arises in the bar where Paterson has a beer every night when he walks his wife’s dog, Marvin (Nellie, who, sadly, passed away before Paterson came out: http://www.indiewire.com/2016/05/the-2016-palm-dog-posthumously-awarded-to-nellie-the-dog-from-jim-jarmuschs-paterson-289094/).

The characters Paterson encounters are plentiful and colorful: defeatist coworker Donny (Rizwan Manji); a rapper (Method Man) in a laundromat; a young poet (Sterling Jerins) waiting for her mother in the bus yard; Marie (Chasten Harmon) and her sensitive beau, Everett (William Jackson Harper), whom she’s trying to dump; a nameless gangbanger (Luis Da Silva, Jr.) who warns Paterson about dog-jacking (not that it stops him from tying Marvin to a spigot outside the bar every night); anarchists, old ladies, and braggarts on the bus.

Perhaps the most accomplished thing about Paterson is its rhythm: the plot moves slowly but in a purposely metered fashion. Cinematographer Frederick Elmes creates a dreamy and downright poetic look. The relationship between Paterson and the world has its own set of rules. This film reminds me of Dead Man, which I haven’t seen in two decades: quietly contemplating routine and rut, Paterson ultimately celebrates the poetry in the mundane. The unnamed traveler and angel (Masatoshi Nagase) at the end literally gives us the “a-ha” moment. With nearly no outside sound, not even music, I thought of one thing: if James Joyce’s Ulysses were made into a movie, it would feel a lot like this. Unlike Leopold Bloom, though, Paterson’s wife isn’t cheating on him, and no one except Marvin seems to mind his presence.

Side note: for some reason, the screening I caught included Spanish subtitles, unintentionally adding another layer of what-the-fuck. Paterson is not a movie for everyone, but I definitely see a following here. I liked it.

Also starring Barry Shabaka Henley, Trevor Parham, Troy T. Parham, Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Johnnie Mae.

Produced by K5 International, Le Pacte, Animal Kingdom, and Inkjet Productions

Distributed by Bleeker Street Media and Amazon Studios

118 minutes
Rated R

(Landmark Century) B-