Director: Jim Jarmusch | Runtime: 1h 48min | Drama, Romance, Comedy
A bus driver in the area of Paterson, New Jersey coincidentally named Paterson (Adam Driver) spends his time either working, writing poetry on his breaks, or walking his dog, Nellie, whilst his partner Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) spends her time trying to make it as a country signer, or trying to setup a cupcake business, depending which dream she is attempting to follow that day.
If the summary sounds simple, drama-less or even mundane – then you know it’s a Jarmusch film. The New York based independent filmmaker has been around for over 30 years and his 2016 outing starring Adam Driver as a poet-come-bus-driver named by the town he’s from stands as one of the simplest but most affecting films he’s done to date.
Not just a wannabe writer, Paterson is actually a wonderfully elegant poet crafting short verses about the everyday minutia around him. A love poem centred around the couples choice of matches, or describing his feelings of how he might look at other women and wonder, but he knows he’d be broken without his wife. Throughout, the simple elegance of his poems are reflected in the story Paterson finds himself in, spanning 8 days and telling a similar story for many of those; he wakes up early, goes to work, listens to the conversations of those on his bus, at home he catches up with his partner and then he’ll take the dog for a walk, and go to a bar for a beer. It may be simple, but the way in which Jarmusch creates a narrative almost void of conflict in itself almost creates a conflict for us watching, always waiting for something catastrophic to go wrong.
Even when you think you’ve reached the all is lost climatic scene, it turns out to be a false lead and actually provides a completely different outlook for those involved than you might imagine. Jarmusch knew exactly the film he was creating and isn’t afraid to lead us on a few red herrings along the way. Before this though, we are treated to a quiet observation of city-life through our leads eye’s, and in doing so giving Driver one of the highlights of his career so far. Incredibly understated, he makes the otherwise ordinary drama feel cinematic, and the small events that in most other films wouldn’t have a second thought are the weights that give us the reason to stay engaged.
Throughout we’re treated to many of these excellent poems by Paterson, Driver performing them as narration during the quieter moments. Much of his inspiration comes from Paterson born poet William Carlos Williams, a recurring notion brought up by many of the characters surrounding our lead. It seems that every time the poet is raised in conversation, something almost dreamlike surely follows. The motif of twins almost has Paterson questioning the occurrences, but it never comes to more than a look.
As much as Driver deserves the praise he has received, it wouldn’t be as effective if the chemistry between him and Farahani falls flat, but it’s very conceivable that these two are deeply in love. Mostly staying at home, Farahani’s Laura is introduced to as being excited for the upcoming market in which she will sell her cupcakes, hopefully kickstarting her cake business. At the same time, she hopes to follow her dreams as a country singer, both of these are fully supported by Paterson, providing the financial aide despite their low income.
Every detail through feels gentle, and almost plays out like a calm meditation on life with an elegant artistic flare. Some will find it pretentious, but there’s nothing garish or outgoing enough to delve into the realms of say, Tree of Life (2012) or anything by Lars Von Trier. Instead, it’s thoughtful without being existential contemplations, grounding itself in a far more human and relatable message.
By the end, the biggest loss is reflecting the scale of the rest of the story – that is, it’s only really small. But that doesn’t matter, it affects Paterson more so than a previous encounter of the most non-violent violence you’ll likely experience. It doesn’t leave you with the urge to discuss the very nature of being human or the artistic drive to escape mundanity, instead a small pondering on what it means to be an artist, who is the art for. Instead, it’s a positive note that actually only affects Patersons life in the most minor of ways, but in such an expertly crafter way.