Jim Jarmusch’s low-key and elegant film Paterson is another feather in the cap for this idiosyncratic auteur, starring an intensely committed Adam Driver as a New Jersey bus driver named Paterson, who happens to live in the city of Paterson. The film is part fantasy, part meditation, and all wonderful, with an observant eye for visual detail (the great Frederick Elmes is the cinematographer) and containing honest verbal wit that mixes with personal introspection into something that feels unique and quietly moving. The gliding editing patterns established by cutter Affonso Gonçalves are incredibly smooth, and result in a film that feels as if it’s drifting across the screen, much like the many characters, both big and small, that inhabit the frame. Jarmusch’s style has certainly evolved over the years but he’s always had a firm grasp on the peculiarities of people and how they approach their life.
Paterson has a very predictable routine. He wakes up every morning, has his cereal, kisses his spirited wife (the superb Golshifteh Farahani) goodbye, and heads out for a day on the deteriorating streets of the city. On his breaks, he jots down poetry in his notepad, which appears on the screen as text, and can be heard via Driver’s dry voice-over (the real-life poet Ron Padgett crafted the various poems heard during the film). After work, he has dinner with his wife, who is always focusing on something new to fill her day, and then he takes their dog for a walk, grabs a beer, chats with the bartender (Barry Shabaka-Henley) and goes to sleep. He’s a man content with rigidity. Or is he? He doesn’t seem to get mad, and when the story turns tragic in the form of a personal disaster, Paterson’s response to the events is humorous, sad, and strangely enviable.
The film isn’t interested in a traditional plot, as Jarmusch is too concerned with his characters and their flights of fancy and their dreams and aspirations to care about the artificial rigors of contrived plotting. Instead, the audience is treated to a character and mood piece, where Driver appears in nearly every scene, his unique physical characteristics somehow tamped down from what we’ve seen previous, with flat-lined energy that results in a heavily modulated yet still emotionally affecting performance. If all of this sounds like as much fun as watching paint dry, well, I won’t lie, this movie won’t be everyone’s favorite cup of cinematic tea. It’s quiet, the film is comprised of numerous long-takes, and by design, the circular nature of the narrative keeps things on a very even keel. But if you’re looking for something artistic and thought provoking, definitely check it out.