Not much happens in Paterson, Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, but that’s really the point.
Adam Driver plays Paterson (who shares a name with his home city, Paterson, New Jersey). He wakes up in a sundrenched bed at nearly the same time every morning, slips his watch onto his wrist and kisses his quirky wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) goodbye. He has breakfast, and because he doesn’t have a smart phone to distract him, he contemplates ordinary objects, like a box of matches. Then he walks through the streets of Paterson to the bus terminal.
He drives the #23 bus all day, eavesdropping on conversations both banal and scintillating. He grabs a few minutes before his shift and during breaks to write poetry in his “secret notebook.” He is an observer of life.
Back home, he appreciates Laura’s art, music and baking projects. She loves the colors black and white, and spends her days creating stylish curtains, clothing and cupcakes. When they kiss, Marvin, their adorable bulldog, starts complaining. So, Paterson takes him out on a walk and ties him up outside a dive bar (a throwback to an idealized past where there are no TVs and the bartender plays chess), where he has a beer while some minor dramas unfold.
Driver’s portrayal of Paterson is splendid. He is the master of subtle — when he experiences setbacks, his eyebrows twitch ever so faintly, his lip quivers. Paterson, the man, is so approachable and apparently nonjudgmental that strangers, and especially poetic ones, approach him. Farahani is luminous, but the combination of her idealized generosity and cute bulldog are a bit hard to swallow. It’s the opposite of gritty realism.
Nevertheless, the film succeeds in making art of life, capturing the beauty in the mundane. The inspiration for the film is William Carlos Williams’ epic five-volume poem by the same name, and the poet Ron Padgett composed several poems just for the film. Some are a bit heavy-handed, but others sing with a simplicity that rings true to Jarmusch’s vision.
Paterson gives us a glimpse into this world, where a bus driver is a poet, where the act of creation can be disconnected from fame or recognition. There are no inspiring strings playing as Paterson gets his due. He’s just a guy doing what he does.
Paterson’s underlying message — that art is everywhere and for everyone — is one we could all stand to hear.