How do I love writer and director Jim Jarmusch's latest and possibly greatest film, Paterson? Let me count the ways.
First, the basics: Adam Driver (Star Wars' Kylo Ren; Adam on Girls) stars as a bus driver named Paterson who lives in the town of Paterson, New Jersey, with poet William Carlos Williams' collection Paterson displayed prominently on his basement bookshelf. Get used to it, because co-occurrences such as these are sprinkled all over the film, and in weird, delightful ways.
In the opening scene, we see Paterson wake up in bed next to his partner Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) a little after 6 a.m. She tells him about her dream and he gets out of bed and goes to work. When he's not driving the bus, he writes poems in a notebook, which we hear in voiceover and see written across the screen. Good movies about art and its process are hard to find, and this one places the candy directly in our mouths. The poems were written for the film or borrowed from the real-life work of poet Ron Padgett, all of them earnest, soulful and plainly delivered.
Laura's an artist of a different kind. She stays at home decorating every surface of their house with black and white patterns and bakes cupcakes to sell at the farmers market. Every evening after work, Paterson walks their English bulldog Marvin to the corner bar, ties him to a post and goes inside to have a beer and converse with the regulars.
We see this routine play out every day of the week, culminating in weekend plans that are just as ordinary. It might sound boring on the surface, but the pleasure is in the details. Paterson doesn't offer a plot so much as a snapshot of a life, and the lack of plot is unsettling. Cinemagoers are trained to prepare for calamity, after all. Jarmusch's script understands this and expertly toys with our expectations. Is the dog going to be OK? What's going to happen with the unhinged, heartbroken man who keeps showing up at the bar? No couple could be this happy, could they?
There may not be a better match for Jarmusch's odd filmmaking style than Driver, an actor whom we are all collectively in love with, even if we can't put our finger on why. Driver's Paterson doesn't say much, and when he does talk his words aren't particularly profound or interesting. It might seem paradoxical, but I've seen this often in talented writers I know. It's like they're saving it all for their work.
In one poem Paterson writes, "Sometimes I think about other girls, but if you ever left me, I'd tear my heart out and never put it back." Most film romances focus on the first meeting, but this is a healthy relationship between two people who really seem to understand and care for each other. Who can even comprehend such a thing! Nobody hates sentiment more than me, and yet, watching this couple in love and engaged in ordinary life filled me with uncharacteristic warmth and comfort. Maybe you've heard of this? It's that feeling we're all looking for?
As Paterson drives the bus, he observes moments out the window and overhears conversations. (Look out for the teenagers discussing the tenets of anarchy: They are the young actors from Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom.) These are the moments that make poetry. Judging by Paterson's subtle, bemused expression as he observes them, he's found in them a model for what it means to live a satisfied life.
Paterson opens at the Roxy Fri., March 10.