THE STORY – Paterson (Adam Driver) is a hardworking bus driver in Paterson, N.J., who follows the same routine every day. He observes the city and listens to fragments of conversations while picking up and dropping off his passengers. Paterson also writes heartfelt poems in a notebook, walks his dog and drinks one beer in a bar after his shift is over. Waiting for him at home is Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), his beloved wife who champions his gift for writing.
THE CAST – Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Barry Shabaka Henley, Cliff Smith, Chasten Harmon, William Jackson Harper & Masatoshi Nagase
THE TEAM – Jim Jarmusch (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 118 Minutes
By Nicole Ackman
It would be easy to call “Paterson” mundane or even boring, but its simplicity is the key to its beauty. The film, written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, is delightfully comforting in the way it shows a fairly ordinary week in the life of its main character. The title of the film is derived from both its setting in the unremarkable town of Paterson, New Jersey, and the name of its main character. Paterson is a bus driver and poet whose quiet existence is beautifully brought to life by Adam Driver.
Paterson lives with his artistic and ambitious wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) who is constantly flitting from one creative project to the next. She wants to open a cupcake shop and learn to be a country music star and encourages Paterson to publish the poems he writes in his spare moments. Paterson is very supportive of his wife’s dreams, though his art seems much more for his own enjoyment than for the sake of fame or glory. He also spends time at the neighborhood bar where he converses with the bartender and other patrons, giving the audience little glimpses into other lives.
Driver gives a very quiet and soft-spoken, but emotive performance as the titular character. Paterson is a man who notices things about other people and is willing to step in to do good acts. He stays with a little girl he notices is alone until her mother comes to get her and selflessly takes charge of a dangerous situation at the bar. On his breaks from driving a bus in the town, he writes lovely poems in his notebook.
Paterson’s poems find joy in simple things, like his favorite type of matches (Ohio Blue Tip) and his relationship with his wife. The film itself highlights that the ordinary and every day can be wonderful, like the conversations that Paterson overhears on the bus between customers. The film itself is visually pleasing but in a very understated, non-showy way. While the costumes and production design are largely ordinary and the movie was mainly filmed in Paterson, New Jersey, the cinematography creates a soothing aesthetic.
The film is a glimpse at how people create art in the midst of a normal life. Some of the best scenes feature Paterson writing poetry, as the words appear on the screen and Driver speaks the lines, putting in little pauses as though he’s actually writing it as he goes. (Driver’s voice is so pleasing, I’d like an audiobook of him reading poetry.) While the poems by Rod Padgett used in the film are not groundbreaking, they perfectly capture the character and show that he does have some talent.
The monotony of Paterson’s life creates a contrast with his poetry just as the artsy home that his wife is redecorating stands out from the plain town they live in. Over the course of the film, Laura’s black and white harlequin designs take over more and more space, culminating in the arrival of her harlequin-printed guitar.
Some audiences might find “Paterson” overly repetitive or even boring, but the repetition of the character’s daily routine, from leaving the house in the morning to walking home after work, makes us feel like we’re getting an authentic, accurate view of his life. Bolstered by a great performance by Driver and an ambiguous but intriguing ending, the film has much to say about creative drive and artistic pursuits in the middle of a mundane existence. Plus, “Paterson” is so comforting in its simplicity that it is the perfect film to watch during quarantine.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – This understated but sweet film is a beautiful portrait of creativity in the middle of mundane life.
THE BAD – Some may be turned off by its slow and repetitive nature.