Many terrible things are discussed in the maelstrom of mayhem and misery I call my inbox – terrible, terrible things, such as requests involving me needing to go somewhere, or speak to someone or do something.
But last Thursday afternoon a lovely email broke through like a ray of sunshine piercing grey clouds on a stormy day. It was an email from a publicist at SBS. The subject line read: “Binge 627 minutes of ADAM DRIVER for free.”
Why yes, I thought, I do have a lot spare time this weekend. Why yes, I do quite like Driver. Why yes, I am partial to free stuff. And why yes, I have experienced acts of cinematic self-flagellation before, being a survivor of a 14-hour Nicolas Cage marathon. I emerged from that believing Cage to be among the greatest actors in the history of cinema.
Would an Adam Driver fest have the same effect on me? It had to find out. So I devoted my weekend to it, limiting my viewing selection to the catalogue on SBS on Demand and allowing no more than a 48-hour window to gorge on the aforementioned 627 minutes. The first movie on the bill, which I began on Saturday morning, was Noah Baumbach’s 2012 hipstery dramedy Frances Ha – presented in lived-in, earthy monochrome, because STYLE.
Anybody who has seen this film knows it’s not Driver’s movie. The star of the show is an almost unnaturally likable Greta Gerwig, who plays the titular New Yorker: a free thinker coasting between apartments and living circumstances. At one point Frances moves in with Driver’s character, Lev, a cool cat who wears nice shirts and retro hats. In one scene he bids goodbye by saying, “Catch you on the flip side.” He doesn’t say it ironically yet he still seems cool. How does he do that?
Next on the itinerary was the 2013 Australian drama Tracks. This film is also driven by a strong female performance, with Mia Wasikowska playing Robyn Davidson, a woman who in 1977 did something that made me feeling especially self-conscious about the goal I had set for myself: she walked 2,700-odd kilometres across desert Australia with her four camels and her dog.
Driver plays Rick Smolan, a US photographer for National Geographic who documents Davidson’s journey and is her sort-of love interest. The director, John Curran, pursues a non-cheesy approach to their relationship. They hook up and care for each other but they aren’t soulmates. This isn’t some soppy romance where the lead characters make out in an airport at the end.
When Tracks finished (and because the film is Australian, the dog of course dies) I was conscious that here I was, watching an Adam Driver fest – and neither of the two films so far was really “his”. Not so for the third on the billing: Jim Jarmusch’s soft-edged character drama Paterson, which is very much a Driver film. He even plays a character whose profession is the same word as his surname. Driver is Paterson, a New Jersey bus driver and part-time poet who lovingly labours over lines he scribbles on to a notebook, which slowly fills up.
Jarmusch gives the film a beautiful, repetitive structure, melodically cutting between Paterson driving the bus, checking his mailbox, drinking at his local watering hole, and of course writing poems – which are displayed in text draped across the screen. Driver’s performance is understated and charming. You can’t imagine the character being played by anybody else.
I did not watch any Driver movies on Saturday evening – taking a break from the terribly onerous duties befalling the heroic, hardworking critic. Sunday morning was, I figured, a fitting time to watch Silence, Martin Scorsese’s hard-hitting 161-minute drama about Jesuit priests (one of them played by Driver) trying to track down Liam Neeson, who is hiding somewhere in the mountains of Japan.
Driver appears early on, alongside Andrew Garfield as a fellow priest, and boy does he look gaunt (the actor reportedly lost up to 40 pounds – or 18kg – for the role). Only 15 minutes in, Driver is already hiding in a cave and cowering in fear, suggesting this will not be a pleasant Sunday school experience, with picture books and the singing of He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands. Indeed, terrible things await – including torture, death and long dialogue exchanges with Neeson.
My spirits rallied during the final leg of the journey, watching Terry Gilliam’s 2018 meta fantasy-adventure The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. It presents a very different Driver. He plays a conceited, obnoxious, philandering film director – of course a realistic depiction of of film directors, but quite a shock coming from Driver. He seemed like such a nice young man, with his poems and his photography and his “catch you on the flip side”.
So, did I come out of my weekend with Driver falling for him as much as I fell for Cage? I cannot say that I did. Watching Cage for 14 hours felt like being strapped to a chair and pelted with the craft of acting. Watching Driver for 10 felt more like hanging out with a cool, relaxed guy who talked about culture and wore sunglasses inside. Yet maybe, given the intense state of the world right now, I chose the right company.
• SBS On Demand is streaming all of these films right now