Paterson is another beautifully crafted, delicate love story about life in all its intricacies from one of my favorite filmmakers, Jim Jarmusch. It depicts a single week in the life of a bus driver, called Paterson, who writes poetry. Not for publishing, not for others, but just to write. He lives a life of encouragement with his wife, whose flighty ambitions are only matched by her untapped potential, and their dog, Marvin, whom he openly dislikes but treats with love and respect nonetheless. During the days that follow, there is very little that changes in Paterson’s life. No great upheaval is expected, and no stunning revelation from the gods arrives. Instead, like life, they are days of understated compassion and realization, where a single nice gesture can make the world a better place. As far as antagonists go, Marvin is as much we get. Sometimes in life that’s all it takes.
Paterson’s world is one of routine and repetition, but it’s good. He listens to the stories of the people on the bus, and, with the help of his local watering hole’s bartender, longingly admires the memories left behind by those who ventured outside their hometown. Throughout all this, he writes, observes, and writes more.
His poems are projected on screen as passing glimpses, painting the landscape with wry observations about the world. Jarmusch fills the story with details both hidden and overt, allowing the film to feel different each time it is viewed. Like a tone poem itself, PATERSON never feels the same twice. It has the air of a distant memory, an emotional deja-vu, reminding of a place or a feeling that once meant something.
Played with subtlety and grace by a generational great, Adam Driver, Paterson would appear first as a reactive non-starter. He doesn’t get riled up and rarely puts up a fight against anyone — let alone the world, which seems to pass him by without so much as a glance. But there’s a quiet dignity to his life, filled with the things that make him happy. His trusty bus carries with it daily conversations of hopes and dreams, pulling back and forth through the small town like the tide. The dialog glimpsed here is also some of the funniest in a film full of zingers. (“Are we the only anarchists in Paterson?” Kara Hayward asks her friend with the kind of frustrated passion only teenagers can muster.) His friends at the local bar have their own shortcomings, but are constant and dependable; even in their own bouts of craziness. The effortlessly charming Golshifteh Farahani plays Laura, Paterson’s wife, who imbues the film with passion at every turn. She might appear flighty, with obsessions changing daily to accommodate a bipolar personality, but watch as Jarmusch wordlessly changes their apartment in the background. Like Paterson, Laura is a unique talent hidden by the world, completely happy to do her own thing and dream her own dreams.
There’s also plenty of humor to the film, but it’s the kind of warmly dry wordplay designed to make you smile rather than laugh outright. Like Paterson’s poems, the jokes linger and make a nest somewhere in the soul, more enduring than a quick belly laugh. Even when it doesn’t aim for humor, Jarmusch can’t help but have a hidden smile at how random our unexpected connections can be. Watch how he beautifully weaves in a cameo from Method Man, delivering yet another reaffirming reminder how unbreakable the spirit of art is in people.
Jarmusch excels at these kinds of films and has done so for decades. They’re slices of life stories about worlds that do not exist, yet feel all the more honest because of that fiction. The town of Paterson is drenched in a warm late afternoon sunlight, giving the streets a golden brown tint which seems to last forever. In reality that moment stays barely an hour before it’s gone, yet Jarmusch makes it feel like it’s always meant to be there. In the same way that Aki Kaurismäki’s films live on the edge of fantasy and reality, so too does Jarmusch.
There’s little in the way of plot in this charming film, but that hole is filled with love in return. Intensely personal, PATERSON a joyous exploration of a small microcosm of life deep in New Jersey, and that’s all it ever needs to be.