Paterson; Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; The Edge of Seventeen and more – review

Jim Jarmusch’s lovely Paterson looks for poetry in the everyday, while a Harry Potter spin-off is all style and no substance

Last week it was World Poetry Day, and if such randomly appointed occasions carried much meaning beyond a trending Twitter hashtag, I’d say it’s an apposite time to be releasing Paterson (Soda, 12) on DVD. Cinema has a patchy record of encapsulating other art forms, but something like a poet’s soul runs through Jim Jarmusch’s lovely, languid study of being. It’s not just in the elegant, surprisingly credible verse (courtesy of the venerable Ron Padgett) supposedly written by its protagonist, a peaceable New Jersey bus driver, exquisitely etched by Adam Driver, living for his lover, his art and, contentedly, not much else. Paterson works up strikingly little conflict as it follows his daily circuit around the faded, resting city with which he shares a name. It invites us, like its shy hero, to locate the rhythm and sometimes broken rhyme in everyday existence.

As frantically busy as Paterson is bemusedly calm, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Warner, 12) offers viewers such a generous, gold-plated array of sheer stuff to consider – from its expensively depressed, steampunky production design to its Oscar-winning wardrobe of swishy overcoats to, per the title’s gasping promise, a digital menagerie of incredible magic beasts in New York – that you might not notice or care how little it ticks beneath the surface. Shortly after seeing it, I could tell you that this JK Rowling-scripted Harry Potter spin-off stars Eddie Redmayne as “magizoologist” wizard Newt Scamander, and that at one point, in a bewildering highlight, he performs a mating dance to a mutant rhino – but what the film is actually about is a more elusive detail. Returning from the Potter franchise, director David Yates has set up an elaborate story world, but it’s more world than story at this point.

Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston in the ‘frantically busy’ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston in the ‘frantically busy’ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Photograph: Allstar/Warner Bros

It’s been six years since then teenager Hailee Steinfeld scored an Oscar nod for a plucky debut in True Grit, but it’s only now, playing an awkwardly yearning misfit in the sly, winning high-school comedy The Edge of Seventeen (eOne, 15), that she arrives as an undeniable star. Like Emma Stone in Easy A a few years back, it’s one of those mercurial turns that shows up how plastically mainstream cinema treats most adolescents. First-time director Kelly Fremon Craig, perceptively channelling John Hughes without resorting to kitsch pastiche, earns similar credit.

If The Edge of Seventeen finds fresh human details in a well-worn genre template, the same can’t be said of underdog boxing biopic Bleed for This (Icon, 15). As former world champion Vinny Pazienza, Miles Teller goes through the pummelling motions, his jaw dutifully clenched throughout, but it’s all perspiration without inspiration. Ben Younger’s entirely proficient film throws not one unexpected punch as it oscillates between triumph and disaster. There’s more bristling masculine energy in Argentine directors Marco Berger and Martin Farina’s elegant tease Taekwondo (TLA, 18), in which a summer gathering of jockish young men exposes homoerotic tensions both overt and subconscious. It’s a sinuous study of bodies on showy display and minds in nervous transition.

The ‘redoubtable’ Melissa Leo and Vincent Kartheiser in The Most Hated Woman in America
The ‘redoubtable’ Melissa Leo and Vincent Kartheiser in The Most Hated Woman in America. Photograph: Netflix

Finally, Netflix’s run of straight-from-the-festival-circuit film premieres continues with The Most Hated Woman in America, a minor, spottily entertaining biopic of a major subject: Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the atheist single mother who fought to end organised prayers in American schools. Her astonishing story, with its shockingly tragic conclusion, merits far more muscular treatment than director Tommy O’Haver’s glib, semi-comic approach. O’Hair gets the performance she deserves, however, from the redoubtable Melissa Leo, who plays her righteousness to a point of earthy derangement. It’s bigger-than-Netflix work in a film that wouldn’t fill a larger screen.


Guy Lodge

The GuardianTramp

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