Jim Jarmusch’s (“Only Lovers Left Alive”) new film follows bus driver Paterson (Adam Driver, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) through a week of his simple life in Paterson, New Jersey.
Each morning after waking up like clockwork next to his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani, “Body of Lies”), he walks to work, drives his route, eats dinner with Laura and takes their bulldog for a walk, which includes a stop at the local bar for one beer. Observant of all around him, Paterson scribbles poems in his secret notebook, inspired by William Carlos Williams, who is also from the city of Paterson.
Driver delights as a pensive everyman with a calm and watchful presence. Instead of boring the audience as similar events occur, his performance allows viewers to better understand his character’s inner world, aided by the shared poems. While the poems, written by Ron Padgett, are beautiful in their own right, Paterson is by no means an undiscovered genius. Despite his relatable role, he has quirks such as his Luddite policy of no cellphone.
The portrayal of his unremarkable but remarkably consistent routine carefully avoids the deliberate repetition of “Groundhog Day” territory. By showing subtle differences between days and leaving out some repeated parts, the film maintains interest. Building from a possibly too slow exposition, some of Paterson’s days are disrupted by unexpected events, which he handles well for someone nestled comfortably
Instead of hinging on drama, the film is carried by the dynamic of their marriage. While Paterson quietly works away at his poetry and is less than eager to share it with the world, Laura jumps from project to project. Despite their differences, they deeply support each other. The PG moments of them waking up next to each
other each morning are surprisingly intimate.
The comedic star of “Paterson” is not human. Marvin the bulldog’s well-timed grunts and knowing stares brought chuckles. Known only to the audience, Marvin even sabotages Paterson’s daily habit of straightening the mailbox. Other successful humor broke the fourth wall or connected to universal experiences that no one talks about, like pretending to enjoy unappetizing food cooked by a loved one.
The true gems of the film were the overheard bus passenger conversations sprinkled throughout the week. These snippets of different lives elicited smiles from both Paterson and viewers. While most films leaves strangers as story-less faces in a crowd or wrap them into the plot as characters, “Paterson” captures how people pass in and out of one’s life, often providing a brief snippet of humor or joy to liven things up.
Despite its unique and mostly well executed premise, “Paterson” has a few weaknesses, especially visually. As Paterson writes new poems, they are shown on screen in a terrible font. While it is meant to emulate his handwriting, it distracts from the content of the poems. To exacerbate the effect, Driver narrates the poems excruciatingly slowly. Simply showing the viewer the written words would have sufficed.
Additionally, some transitions overlap different scenes transparently. Supposedly, this effect aimed to show a monotonous life blending together and the passage of time. However, these scenes instead jarringly bring the audience out of the otherwise hyper-realistic style.
While the role of the stranger and fellow poet Paterson meets in one of the final scenes is clear, their interaction feels forced and inconsistent with the rest of the film. The ending itself, however, was satisfying.
If one watches movies for escapism or thinks all poetry should rhyme, avoid seeing “Paterson.” However, the film is relatable to anyone who has had a creative dream or side project, whether it was a constant, private one or an ever changing, eagerly shared one.
This film is best viewed in theaters to allow being completely absorbed in the subtle artistry. Watching it at home may allow for digital temptations to interrupt in the slower pace. One would hate to miss skillful running jokes, like the uncanny appearance of twins throughout Paterson’s world after Laura dreams of them having their own twins.
As a two hour salute to appreciating the beauty in everyday life, the credits may leave viewers seeing their own routines and surroundings in a new light.
“Paterson” was produced by Amazon Studios and K5 Film. While originally released in the U.S. on Dec. 28, the film began showing in Atlanta on Jan. 13 at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.
The film has won awards from the Toronto Film Critics Association, Los Angeles Film Critics Association and Cannes Film Festival. Nellie, the French bulldog who excelled at the role of Marvin, posthumously won the Palm Dog honor at Cannes.