Paterson is about a bus driver (Adam Driver) who writes poetry. Except it’s not.
It’s about the microcosm of one man’s world, incorporating routine, strangers, even a dog. It’s about the monotony of the day, the people along the way, and the words an artist conjures. And yes, the subject is Paterson, the bus driver “who likes Emily Dickinson!”
The film isn’t flashy, but Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive) layers the simple film with rich imagery and symbolism. Over the poetry that Paterson writes, he juxtaposes the imagery that he conjures in his head and the words scrawled on the screen. As he writes, the voiceover becomes more confident in the words. The electronic score by Sqürl is a blend of minimalism and feels like a natural progression of the world. Paterson feels very personal and the intimacy of the film pays off favorably. The devil’s in the details and Paterson thrives in the smaller moments, particularly due to the work of cinematographer Frederick Elmes (Blue Velvet, Broken Flowers).
This film would not work with anyone other than Adam Driver (Star Wars; The Force Awakens) in the lead role. He gives an emotionally rich performance that depicts the simplicity of Paterson’s existence with flourishes of the deeper man behind the blue shirt. His artist girlfriend, Laura, played by Golshifteh Farahani (Rosewater), is a more complicated figure, seen mainly at home, but constantly bouncing with a new way to make their house more visually interesting. Jarmusch even gets a fantastic performance with Palm Dog winner Nellie as the couple’s dog Melvin, which in a lesser film, would feel like “dog reaction shots.” It’s easy to see how this little family was formed and it’s delightful to spend time with them.
All in all, Paterson is a truly unique film, not only in Jarmusch’s catalogue, but in the landscape of cinema in 2016. It’s a quiet little movie that plays simply, but effectively. And hopefully, it will connect with the inner artist in everyone and showcase the beauty in the ordinary.