Seemingly, not much happens in Paterson.
A man named Paterson wakes up in Paterson, New Jersey, every morning for a week, at almost the exact same time, kisses his beautiful wife asleep next to him, has breakfast, walks to work, and drives a bus around Paterson, New Jersey. He also writes poetry into his notebook whenever he gets a chance, eats lunch, drives more, goes home, has dinner his wife cooked for him, talks to her, walks his petulent dog, has the same beer sitting in the same chair at the same bar every night, goes home, sleeps and… does it again.
And yet… And yes, Jim Jarmusch’s film may be one of the smartest, most human, least boring, best acted films of the year. In fact, it may even be the best film of the year to some people. The fact that it is coming out in wider release in January, where it will have room to breathe and spread its wingspan a little is good, because you don’t want to see this movie rushed.
We follow Paterson for seven days and his routine has very minor variations. Yet each of these, like the poems he writes and the interactions he has, seem so real and almost profound that you watch what should be a boring life with the kind of riveted attention usually reserved for “gripping” narrative driven storytelling. In fact, when our week with Paterson is over, we can’t help but wish we could spend more (more!) time with him.
The key to the success of a “small” movie like this is often in the team assembled around it. Jarmusch is a master of a cinematic tableau, those stand-alone situations that exist for its own cosmic film reasons, and in Paterson he gives himself both the verbal and visual freedom to make each of his characters and situations, no matter how big or small, an utter treat.
Adam Driver plays Paterson, and if there was ever a doubt in anyone’s mind that he WILL be an Academy Award winning performer one day, this movie should eliminate all of that. Tall and square, with a face that seems to be stretching in every direction at once, he both fills out the screen with a physicality that could be threatening but is actually comforting here, and moves around his days with a level of content that is zen, never smug. Every conversation he is part of (actively or passively) he makes better by being there. Ron Padgett provided the original poems he writes to anchor his day, and they are perfect for Driver: deceivingly simple, disarmingly honest, rooted in the smallest, fascinating details of life. Golshifteh Farahani luminously plays his wife, Laura, a swirl of hair and dreams and black and white everything, a messy but loving core in the center of Paterson’s life. She experiments, flip-flops, changes her mind, and yet she is always there. Her character may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but she does by contrast help us appreciate the quiet of Paterson’s inner and outer workings all the more. And since he loves her, we can grow to do the same.
As expected, the smaller roles in Jarmusch’s world are as memorable from a series of twins that pop in-and-out of frame to anything-but-everyday cameos (keep an eye out for a classic Jarmusch Method Man moment, and Moonrise Kingdom fans will have their year made during one of the bus scenes), altogether adding up to a sum that is much greater than its parts.
Just like life.
Every once in a while, I qualify a movie as something that if you DO love, “you will love it like you would love a poem” and I don’t do it often because it truly to me is one of the highest praises, but when I do (Beginners, Her, Heartbeats, anything with Miranda July involved) I really mean it. Paterson deserves this qualifier. Mellow yet rhapsodic, it is worth your time and reaction. Go see this.
* Is “Paterson” his first name? Last name? Real name? Or just something borrowed from his namesake poem by his favorite William Carlos Williams, who describes “the resemblance between the mind of modern man and a city.”