Like many of us, I sat through The Rise of Skywalker from beginning to end in bemused disbelief that things had gotten so very, very far away from simple tenets of storytelling and filmmaking even with a disgustingly luxurious budget and access to the best resources that any filmmaker could dream of. And yet, as I walked out the theater and tried to process the wet-fart landing of the film franchise that I had sunk the last five years of my life into watching and endlessly dissecting, I found myself wanting to shove every piece of media featuring Adam Driver that I could get my bony talons on into my ravenous brain-mouth.1 Something about watching Kylo Ren huff and hiss and twirl and drip and neg and make that one little frowny face for so long, culminating in a wholly unearned last minute redemption, had started to poke at me: there has to be something more to this dude that Star Wars is not doing justice to. You’re in a lot of stuff, Adam Driver. Why don’t I like you? I should like you, darnit. I had a feeling that it was akin to my impression of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, a gifted actor in a long-running franchise playing a complicated and frequently loathsome character who seems to get away with everything and mostly suffers the consequences of his actions through his internal self hatred. Robert Downey Jr. has had a long and lauded career of playing characters that aren’t Tony Stark, but I wasn’t that interested in seeing much else from Robert Downey Jr. because the impression that his character left on me was one of disdain. Likewise, I didn’t want to dislike Adam Driver for playing Kylo Ren so well, because clearly there was so much more to him.2 And looking over the last few years, wow, was I not paying attention to just the staggering mountain of movies that this man has been in or what? I had plenty of material to feed my newfound twitterpation.
And so, over the next month, I did exactly that, utilizing what was already on streaming media that I had access to and what was easily available through the library. Call it new year’s malaise, call it a desperate need to shut out the real world,3 call it wasting away on the couch with too much free time on my hands thanks to the holiday work break, call it the cocaine-aping endorphin rush of delirious struggle against the inevitable tide of a new infatuation.4 What follows below is an attempt to record my impressions of these movies that I’ve seen for the first time in the urge to binge-watch as much Adam Driver material as I could within a month, loosely in the order that I watched them. I had already seen a few Driver-centric movies before, but not many in the scope of just how many movies he’s managed to be in over the last three years alone. I guess he was in Lincoln (2012), which I don’t remember much of aside from the scene with the nice people in the beginning who asked the president for a toll booth.5 I also saw BlackKklansman (2018) when it was in theaters, which I thought was quite good but also don’t remember much about what Driver was doing because that was fully John David Washington’s movie.6
Kindly take note that this guide to the filmography of Adam Driver will probably include candid spoilers for the following: Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019), Marriage Story (2019), Paterson (2016), Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), The Report (2019), Silence (2016), Logan Lucky (2017), The Dead Don’t Die (2019), The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2019), Frances Ha (2012), Midnight Special (2016), This Is Where I Leave You (2014), and What If? (2013). So let’s get to it.7
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
How Was The Movie? People…I think we’ve all had time to process and accept that the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy as a whole was not very good. It was inconsistent and contradictory, it pandered, it was overstuffed, it criminally underused the talents of its cast. I hope very much that Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, et al have long and exciting careers that make this franchise just a blip on the ol’ resume. I could go on forever; the Internet has gone on and will go on forever about this. We don’t need to keep talking about it. I don’t want to talk about it. This movie is still in theaters right now and it feels like it came out eight years ago. Please don’t make me talk about it.
Ok, well, How Was Adam Driver? He was certainly doing his best with what he was given. How did that initial meeting even go, anyway?
“Hey Adam, remember what you were like as a 16 year old? You were probably a mouth-breathing hormone-bomb who was convinced that the best way to talk to girls was to instant message them pictures of yourself holding a katana in front of your 1992 Honda Civic? And if that didn’t work, you’d send them pictures of dead birds that you took from the woods behind your house?”
“We want you to channel that guy, except as a grown-ass man, and we’re also going to make him a magical space prince.”
“You guys do know that right now I’m mostly famous for peeing on Lena Dunham in the shower in my character’s murder-lair apartment on Girls, right? Am I right for this?”
“Yes, Adam. Yes, you are.”
Marriage Story (2019)
How Was The Movie: I was hesitant to watch this movie because divorce dramas, good ones at least, often go far past the point of entertainment and start to stab at you in places that you’ve paid a therapist a lot of money to try and numb. Marriage Story is, thankfully, a good balance of both bleak and sweet, darkly funny and terrifying. Divorce is brutal, and the movie has enough nuance to prove that it’s the pressure cooker theater of lawyers, custody, and support that can bring out the worst in otherwise perfectly average people. Charlie and Nicole are both people that I really would not care to be friends with in real life, which I liked, because it sets a mostly even playing field of hoping that these two can get past this and move on for the happiness of their son, but it didn’t make a villain out of either of them.8 Other thoughts: Ray Liotta’s face frightens me, and it always will.9 I’m pretty sure that Laura Dern’s character takes vacations to Alaska where she tears fish out of the ice with her bare hands and eats the fish raw, for relaxation. You know who doesn’t get nearly enough recognition for being great in this movie? Julie Hagerty. I love her so much. She’s like my fantasy movie mom.
How was Adam? Good! Very good. Making the use of his considerable talents beyond just punching walls, he also has some great physical comedy moments and he warbles Sondheim like an angel. This would be his year to sweep awards season for everything that Marriage Story has earned him, but that pesky villainous murder clown seems set to block his awards victory at every turn.
How Was The Movie: I have multiple humanities degrees, a deep weakness for midcentury modernist literature, and a well-worn monthly transit pass, so OBVIOUSLY I never stood a chance against this movie. This movie has me melting like a cube of butter in Adam Driver’s poetry-writing, wheel-turning gentle giant hands. I like movies that play around with time, and Paterson pulls off the magic trick of showing both the slow minutiae of a daily routine and the forecast of an entire life. You can hit the metaphorical fast forward button and watch these people have their morning snuggle, go to work, paint, write, hang out at a bar, walk the dog, etc. for the next 40 years, and that should be unsettling but it’s wonderful and sweet. This is now a comfort movie that I turn on to have in the background when I’m doing other things. It is absolutely criminal that this movie is rated R – it has intimacy but no sex, a few swears no worse than what you’d hear your dad yell in traffic, and one heroic act of fake gun disarmament. The most peril that anyone is ever in is a group of kids who are promptly shooed away from traffic while standing next to a broken down bus. Maybe I’m just really into the fantasy of New Jersey being a friendly place full of nice people who are all obsessed with poetry. Did I mention this was a Jim Jarmusch production? Hail to the bus driver, bus driver man.
How Was Adam: So good. There’s an undercurrent of PTSD to Paterson and a deep well of introversion that makes me think about Bob Ross – a career Air Force Master Sergeant with artistic gifts who decided upon retirement that he never wanted to yell again and dedicated the rest of his life to painting landscapes and raising orphaned squirrels. This character could have been played as jaded or resentful, but Adam is content to quietly glow. There’s a scene where his girlfriend calls him out on his his poetry talent and he tries to bashfully hide his face behind his hands, like a five year old, and his embarrassed shy grin behind his fingers is seriously the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. It is joy.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
How Was The Movie: I had already seen this movie before my month of Adam Driver bingeing, but why the hell not,10 since I know I already love this movie. I love Oscar Isaac’s brittle performance, I love the cat, I love the songs, I love the lady who screams at Llewyn that she can’t find her cat’s scrotum, I love the weird Möbius strip ending.
How Was Adam: He shows up for about a scene and a half and steals the entire thing. He steals the show from Justin Frickin’ Timberlake, which is not an easy thing to do. Glorified cameo, yes, but the glorified cameo of the decade.
The Report (2019)
How Was The Movie: This isn’t a movie that I would have at all been interested in watching before, since I find that reminders of our dystopian wonderland weigh down my mental health, but I recognize the importance of this story and, hey, I’m on an Adam Driver kick. And I’m going to be totally honest, I skipped through the torture scenes. I got the message just fine without them, but I get that not everyone wants two hours of Adam Driver reading emails and endless memos in a sickly-green windowless concrete bunker.11 I’m surprised that Annette Bening didn’t get more recognition for her excellent portrayal of Diane Feinstein.12
How Was Adam: Adam is Government Man, sent from the government. The government has sent him. Watch the patriotic light in his eyes steadily dim as his soul withers in real time, eventually replaced with the burning fury of justice. He’s even given the Kylo Ren makeup and lighting to suggest a man who has not left the basement of a government building for five years.
How Was The Movie: Very good. Hard to get through if you aren’t a fan of watching human suffering, probably even harder to get through on top of that if you were raised deeply religious. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver play 16th century Portuguese Jesuit priests who go to Japan to find their AWOL mentor, in something resembling Heart of Darkness but with more God Stuff. To borrow a Brooklyn Nine-Nine bit, Adam plays Padre Right All The Time and Andrew is his partner, Padre Terrible Padre. Unfortunately their characters’ paths diverge fairly early in the film, leaving poor Andrew to handle most of it on his own. The filmmakers mercifully drop the attempts at accents halfway through and don’t even bother with changing Liam Neeson’s accent because I guess there are things that even Martin Scorsese can’t make happen, so we are treated to a very bleak lecture on the futility of religious conversion by the most Irish Portuguese man who ever lived. This is the kind of brutal historical literary movie that 11th graders all over America are forced to watch in history class and write a term paper on, so many young people out there will probably project all of their hatred and blame for their poor grades onto Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, assuming they don’t already hate him for being in Lincoln, which they already had to write papers on in 10th grade history. Sorry, that’s just how it is and how you know you’ve truly made it.
How Was Adam: Intense. Smoldery. Cheekbones? Cheekbones. Often covered in dirt. Alarmingly thin. The man was in 5000 movies AND a television show between 2014 and 2017, so I have no idea where the hell he found the time to lose 50 pounds and put it all back on for Star Wars. He mangles the Portuguese accent with the rest of them, and he also manages to speak a few words of Japanese, if that’s something of particular interest to you.13
Logan Lucky (2017)
How Was The Movie: Fun. It’s got kind of a charming southern fairy tale feeling around it. Not as clever as it thinks it is, as it has about three too many endings, but that’s how it tends to go with heist movies and everyone’s having such a good time that you don’t stop to question anything until it’s long over. Channing Tatum can pull off former-football-hero-turned-put-upon-single-dad remarkably well. Hilary Swank is a beast and owns every scene that she’s in. Daniel Craig is a vision. It’s very easy to forget that Daniel Craig can be utterly delightful when he isn’t being James Bond. He’s clearly having fun here, like a man who long forgot that acting is fun until it happens to him, and movies like this and Knives Out are particularly good examples. Also, Seth MacFarlane gets smashed face-first into a bar and it’s so beautiful.
How Was Adam: A joy. He brings a sleepy perma-chill in response to the frenzied energy of everyone else, glowering up from under his eyebrows and delivering slow-burn lectures. People seem to really get down on him for having a completely different southern accent than everyone else in the movie, including the people playing his own family. I say let him keep it. Maybe he had a different accent before his arm got blown off, who knows? Things change people.
The Dead Don’t Die (2019)
How Was The Movie: How is this movie not a total blast? How is this the most boring zombie movie I’ve ever seen? What are you doing, Jim Jarmusch? You are clearly more than capable of making a good supernatural movie that has your trademark meditative pacing and dreamy weirdness, because you just made one about vampires and it was great! I hope when I finally go full nihilist, as we are all doomed to do at some point or another, my own artistic expression of such will go a little deeper than whining about people buying video games and coffee. This feels like a movie you could try to fan-edit into something more effective to at least focus on consumerism or climate change or the self-awareness of zombie movies, rather than make tossed-off statements about all of these things at once. The cast for this movie is bonkers. The theme song that plays every 30 seconds is catchy.14 There are grasps at witty deadpan dialogue and novel fourth wall breaking. Adam Driver is giving me the vapors in that cop uniform. Why this isn’t my favorite movie of all time is certainly not MY fault, Jim Jarmusch, because everything I ever wanted is out on the table in front of me and none of it is enough for a meal.
Aaaand How Was Adam: Surprisingly, given the competing star power here, the best part of the movie.15 His delivery of “Ghouls!”, which was highlighted in the trailer, gets a lot of attention, but honestly I think the real homerun was his dismissive “They’re still just dead hipsters”, as he holds the decapitated head of Selena Gomez by the hair, swinging it like a lunchbox.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2019)
How Was The Movie: I haven’t followed the monstrous legacy of this film as closely as others, so I don’t feel the weight of the multiple decades-long hype that some did when they finally saw this movie after hearing about it for so long. It turns out that I don’t love Terry Gilliam movies as much as the Python-loving nerd inside of me wants to like them, because this felt like it was on par with most of what I’ve seen from him. 16 True to Gilliam it’s often visually striking, being set in Spain during the imagery-rich Holy Week, and who doesn’t love watching a far too long movie about people steadily losing their minds? The movie aims for dreamlike and artistic, with the lines of fantasy and reality steadily blurring, but the constant intrusion of the real world feels like being rudely awakened just as the dream is getting good, much like the scene where Adam Driver’s character is dreaming of kissing a pretty lady but wakes up to find that he’s making out with a goat. I actually said “what the fuck is even happening right now” out loud, to no one, several times while watching it, less of a question than a plea. Maybe the movie they made in their minds 30 years ago was great. This was a mess.
Please tell me Adam makes it worth sitting through this thing: Bless him, he tries so hard. Adam and Jonathan Pryce carry this movie almost entirely on their determined shoulders and sing, scream, ride, bicker, banter, dance, fence, smolder, get increasingly covered in filth, you know how it goes.17 One film critic noted that Adam brought a distinct Nicolas Cage Going Off The Rails energy to all of this, which is hard to argue against and hopefully not a portent of things to come with his career. Since I’m ever on the Adam Driver Speaking In Languages Other Than English alert, I will note that he attempts to speak Spanish like a high schooler on a senior class trip to Mexico City, which is rather cute but not nearly as sexy as his attempts to speak Japanese for Silence. The movie waves this away as quickly as possible and forces him back to speaking English because “We all speak the same language in our hearts!” or some lazy bullshit like that.18
Frances Ha (2012)
How Was The Movie: This movie was boring. It was fine. It was ok. She’s cute but she’s not terribly obnoxious about it, so that’s nice I guess. She dances! She dances in the crosswalk, she dances on a fountain. She has a best friend who really isn’t that into her anymore. She deserves better than her sad trombone best friend. Her parents seem like nice people. I’m sure this movie appeals straight to the heart of somebody,19 but it wasn’t me.
Yes, but how was Adam? Fine. Cute. Fetal. He plays her trustafarian roommate and the black and white cinematography weirdly makes him look like Joseph Gordon Levitt. There’s also a great moment where he makes a move on her and she responds by making an ENKK sound, like a wrong answer buzzer on a game show or like he hit the metal while playing Operation. It’s cute.
Midnight Special (2016)
How Was The Movie: Not great, but not bad. Worth a watch for Michael Shannon and a supporting crew of ladies who are dressed like the Mole Women from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.20 The marketing team for this film clearly had no idea what to do with it, as I went in expecting a lo-fi superhero movie like Super 8 and got something closer to Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Tossing the magical boy a Superman comic book in one scene does not make this a superhero movie, folks.
How Was Adam: The sound mix on my DVD copy was dreadful to the point of forcing me to watch the film with subtitles for clarity, because otherwise I could not understand a damn thing. A well-known critic even quoted an essential line of dialogue wrong in his review of this movie, which makes me think that maybe the bad sound quality wasn’t limited to the DVD release. I’m only complaining about this in the “How Was Adam” section because he is in a lot of scenes where his role is to wordlessly react to something happening in front of him, and the very eager subtitle people insist on shoving [LOUD BREATHING] on top of a scene of like, a silent meadow where dawn is breaking, and there are no people on screen. The main thing that this film has going for it is the slow and moody atmosphere, which is largely dialogue free in the crucial final scenes and benefits from deliberate restraint. So naturally the whole damn movie with necessary captions on looks a lot like this:
Anyway, he plays a soft hearted dorky-hot NSA agent who very politely asks Joel Edgerton’s character to punch him at one point. He’s not in it much, but he does fine work with what he’s been given.
This Is Where I Leave You (2014)
How Was The Movie: Bad. My cat bumped the DVD remote and rewound it three minutes, and I yelled at him for making me watch any more of this movie than I had to.21 Jason Bateman plays a loaf of stale white bread with permanent poor-me face who has to hang out with his awful relatives after his father dies, and even after a pretty packed week of doing absolutely anything but actual mourning and/or growing as a character, drives off into the sunset in a stupid sports car. Everything’s going to be ok, guys, the boring man with the fancy job got laid and everyone still loves him. The movie also somehow expects us to believe that Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, Tina Fey, and Jason Bateman all came out of Jane Fonda’s vagina.
How was Adam? Delighted to be there, apparently. Like everyone else in this terrible family, he doesn’t seem all that upset that his dad just died. I’ve never seen him smile so much in anything else, and we all know that Adam Driver’s smile is what would happen if a werewolf and a rainbow had a baby. Maybe he just really likes hanging out with Tina Fey? Who wouldn’t? She’s the best. Well, not in this movie at least. Critic’s reviews of this film all point out that the excellent ensemble cast is wasted on a terrible script, and the best moments are uniformly ones that don’t involve a lot of talking. Which is unfortunate, because as Adam’s character Phillip points out, the characters don’t ever shut up even when they’re playing the voices of reason in his head. The movie’s true MVP is a toddler who is fond of pooping outside, and I wonder if that kid is now old enough to comprehend that he was in a movie where he gets an approving high-five from Kylo Ren for showing him what he made in his training potty.
While We’re Young (2013)
How Was The Movie: Dreadful. I wanted to set the whole cast on fire. For the first half hour I genuinely didn’t know if it was supposed to be a comedy or a horror movie. What’s it about? God only knows. It’s about whining. So much whining. It’s about douchey upper class white people with douchey rich white people problems, like seemingly boundless creative resources and support. It’s sort of like Parasite, but with hipsters and people who were hipsters a decade ago, and it’s not anywhere near as interesting.
..Adam? I’ve started to personally resent him for being in so many Noah Baumbach movies. I spent much of the movie hoping that his character would get smeared into a paste because he rides his bike in traffic wearing a fedora instead of a helmet like a normal person.22 That is how much I hated this movie. Ok, FINE, there was one scene where Ben Stiller’s character was having a bad ayahuasca trip, so he crawled into Adam’s lap like a baby and Adam’s character gently rubbed his back, and that’s what I needed. I need Adam Driver to rock me back and forth and rub my back and tell me that this movie is just a bad trip.23
Are We Done Yet?
In the last fleeting moments of the month of January, I seized on one final bottom-barrel option from the Prime streaming category. I was feeling a little bruised from sitting through two terrible comedies back to back, which didn’t give me a lot of faith in what appeared to be a rom-com flop of the sort of fundamental studio marketing mismanagement that leads to a film being given multiple titles for different film markets.
What If? (Alternative title: The F Word) (2013)
How Was It? Surprisingly not terrible, given the circumstances described above! It was a pretty generic romantic comedy, which I’m already predisposed to not like very much, so the best I can say is that it was boring but not insipid. Daniel Radcliffe is not my dream boy, but I’m sure he’s somebody’s jam. Zoe Kazan is cute and thankfully doesn’t play a complete idiot, and I’m really tired, you guys, I’m so tired. At this point I have fully become Charlie from Marriage Story, bleeding out on the kitchen floor with his arm wrapped in paper towels, telling his little boy that everything is fine – but he’s not really saying that because he wants to put on a brave face, he’s saying it because he is too tired to keep fighting. That is where I am as the perpetual Adam Driver film festival that has dominated my television for the last month draws to a close, and I lay on the floor weakly asking myself if I have it in me to watch The Last Jedi again.
Uh, do you need a — No, I’m ok. I got this. Adam was good. A welcome return to cheerful shouty Adam. He has the best scene in the movie where he shouts in post-coital exaltation about how happy he is to be in love and eating nachos, which is very relateable. The movie makes a solid running background plot about how his character somehow managed to meet, date, marry, and have a baby with his soulmate over the course of about a year with nary a bump in the road while Daniel Radcliffe’s character takes the same amount of time to make a sandwich.
So, what have I learned? Why did I do this? Well, in a nutshell, I learned about a lot of serious film directors and watched a bunch of movies that I wouldn’t normally have cared about, the majority of which ranged from pretty good to excellent. I also got to look at Adam Driver a lot and grow a deep appreciation for an actor who seems to work very hard to make the best of every role he’s in. Now that January is officially over and so is my movie marathon,24 I can look forward to taking a break until his next movie, which from what I can tell is a quirky surreal French musical about a magical baby. 25