Paterson is a film full of lessons and messages, but undoubtedly its most important is that, if possible, you must take the time to appreciate where you are. Find a spot, be it secluded or crowded, and remember to love everything you can about your life and the people who fill it. In an age of fashionable detachment and irony-tinged disappointment, a film like Paterson, which so sincerely celebrates the lives and feelings of ordinary people, is a beautifully refreshing piece. Jim Jarmusch has created a quietly vibrant world that is incredibly pleasant to spend time in, especially when our guide is Adam Driver on wonderfully calm and reflective form.
After following vampires and international espionage in his last two films, Jarmusch returns to more subdued territory with Paterson, a story of man named Paterson (Driver) living in the New Jersey town of Paterson. It’s a coincidence that the film doesn’t make much of, but Paterson the man has clearly become accustomed to laughing at this slight absurdity with anyone who learns this information for the first time. A bus driver and a poet, Paterson spends his days listening to and studying everyone he encounters with a warm compassion, and we follow him for exactly a week, becoming intimately familiar with his routines and rituals.
Everyone we meet in the town is a huge fan of Paterson’s, with the only creature giving him grief his grumpy bulldog Marvin, and he reciprocates the approval. Back at home, his wife Laura (Golshifteh Faharani) undertakes constant creative projects, her grand dreams shifting overnight from owning a successful cupcake business to being a country music star. Her head’s in the clouds somewhat, but she’s not a manic caricature, and some of her hopes are actually realisable. Paterson’s obvious love for her means that she doesn’t get annoying, framed as she is as a woman that anyone would be absurdly lucky to call their wife, despite her often bemusing artistic antics and horrible cooking.
It’s worth noting that Paterson is unashamedly a ‘nothing happens’ film, instead letting an normal week in the life just wash over the audience. Paterson himself is a tremendously well-drawn character, acted with zen-like subtlety by Driver, who is in almost every shot of the film, and Faharani does a great job as Laura, her hyperactivity perfectly complementing Driver’s still opaqueness. The residents of Paterson make for a memorable ensemble, the highlights of which are the local barkeep Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley) and a cameo by Method Man as an aspiring rapper who performs at the laundromat.
Jarmusch and his cinematographer Frederick Elmes shoot simply for the most part, this unobtrusive style in keeping with the tone and atmosphere of the film itself, as well as the town it takes place in. Paterson is also paced and edited beautifully; some may see the fourth slow fade from a half-empty beer to Paterson waking up in the morning as annoying, but it very effectively creates the sense of a real week slipping by.
Of course, for a movie like this to work, dialogue is crucial, and rest assured that Jarmusch delivers here. Paterson and Laura’s interactions are sweet and believable, always hinting at the fondly remembered details of their shared history without resorting to a barrage of exposition. Out in the town, incidental conversations are fantastically written, we wryly smile alongside Paterson as he overhears kids chatting about famous boxers, or students (played by the lead two kids from Moonrise Kingdom) discussing the local anarchist scene. Perhaps the finest of these exchanges is two guy friends talking about the interest they’ve had from beautiful women lately. It’s clear neither of them are having particularly successful love lives, and also clear that neither of them actually believe that the other guy believes their story, but they tell it anyway. It’s an acutely observed slice of life, a lovely microcosm of the film as a whole.
When Paterson writes his poems, Jarmusch allows himself to become a little more stylised, the poetry itself appearing onscreen in Paterson’s handwriting, with overlayed images of his inspirations and muses filling the screen. Whether or not his poems are as good as Laura says they are, I cannot say, but it also doesn’t matter. Like most things in his very private life, Paterson’s poems are for himself. He doesn’t need outside approval, merely existing in the world is good enough for him, and any judgements it makes of him are negligible. It’s an admirable outlook, making Paterson a character that every viewer will learn something from.