ot much happens in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson. The film follows a week in the life of Paterson (Adam Driver), an aptly named, poetry-loving bus driver in the city of Paterson, New Jersey. While this minimal narrative may seem insubstantial, as we follow Paterson’s daily routine — listening to passenger’s conversations, absorbing the city around him and forming verse in his mind — the film adopts the rhythmic aesthetic of his poetry, inviting us to bathe in its subtle charm.
While Star Wars: The Force Awakens propelled Driver to superstardom, his career is taking an exciting path. “Once you get a taste for really good directors”, he said in an interview, “you just want to only do that.” Driver — who portrays a Portuguese Jesuit priest in the upcoming Martin Scorsese film, Silence — is certainly an actor worth following, and he is wonderful in Paterson. A far cry from his portrayal of raging Star Wars villain Kylo Ren, here he is given the opportunity to demonstrate his versatility, with a naturalistic, candid performance.
While Paterson’s wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) has no job, she is happy experimenting with clothes, cupcakes and chasing her dream of becoming a famous country singer. The two are so adorable, their relationship would approach the quixotic, where it not for the delicate credibility of their performances. Farahani and Driver create tender, funny scenes of domestic bliss — including Laura’s questionable Brussels sprout and cheese pie — and without the need of a single sex scene, they somehow manage to craft a love more profound than many Hollywood romances.
While idyllic, there is, however, some complexity to their relationship. Tension is created by Laura urging her happily unpublished husband to let the world see his poetry, and one can’t help but read a hint of frustration in her increasingly eccentric artistic endeavours. After Laura tells of a dream she had in which they have twins together, this theme becomes a recurring motif, with Paterson noticing twins all over the city. Is this symbolic of the couple’s inner desire to start a family? This question is left hanging. When even a subplot involving a dramatic lover’s spat ebbs away to little consequence, it’s clear that Paterson is intended to be as equivocal as its poetic subject matter.
On Paterson’s bus route, montages layered over images of flowing water give us plenty of breathing room to become lost in his mind, and the city that inspires him. While hardly a historical document, the film is peppered with nods to the city of Paterson’s past, its diverse community and its literary heritage. Much like the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) — in which Driver incidentally had a small part — we explore the setting from an unconventional viewpoint, while ultimately the focus is on the humanity at the film’s core.
A refreshing breather from action-packed blockbusters, Jim Jarmusch’s latest offering is a contemplative exercise that proves quietly courageous by placing great trust in the audience’s ability to find intrigue in the mundane. A film of tremendous simplicity, but not without depth, Paterson wins you over with its sheer, unironic loveliness.