Waking up. Making coffee. Walking to work. Talking to co-workers. Coming home. Walking the dog. Going to the bar. Repeating it all again. These are the mundane activities Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson” is made of. While they’re the things most of us do without much thought, and often with a little dread, in “Paterson” they’re everything, they’re life and they’re beautiful.
This quiet sentimentality comes from Jarmusch showing us this world through the eyes of a peculiar man named Paterson (a subtle, wonderful Adam Driver), a bus-driving poet in Paterson, N.J., who favors William Carlos Williams, author of the epic poem “Paterson.” He lives with a beautiful woman, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and he goes about his life gently, often letting his poems take over his thoughts. As he walks through the brick-lined, industrial landscape of Paterson, we hear him working out a poem in his head. “We have plenty of matches in our house … we have plenty of matches in our house …” He writes it down when he can and expands from there.
This happens often, but instead of just audio, Jarmusch scribbles Paterson’s verses across the screen, daring us to really consider the words. This film isn’t some quirky gimmick about a blue-collar fellow with an artist’s heart; it’s deeply sincere and lifelike.
Part of that is because Paterson’s world is full of characters — realistic people who come in and out of his life. He seems to delight in the randomness. When Paterson drives, he takes in his environment, listening and enjoying the conversations between the two kids whose feet don’t touch the floor of the bus talking about Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who is from Paterson and “looks like Denzel Washington,” or the men talking about girls and obviously lying to each other but both accepting the other’s delusions, or even the teens (who some viewers might recognize as the kids from “Moonrise Kingdom”) talking about anarchy. He also tolerates his perpetually aggrieved co-worker who always has a laundry list of woes to rattle off when presented with a courtesy “How are you?”
At home, he listens attentively to Laura, who is sometimes ridiculous, but endlessly supportive of him. When he wakes up, peacefully and without an alarm, she turns to him and says something sweet. During the day, she borders on eccentric, painting everything in their house shades of black and white. One day she tells him with the utmost sincerity that she’s going to be in the cupcake business, and the next, she’s ordering a guitar online because she also might just become a famous country star like Patsy Cline or Tammy Wynette. Paterson looks at her lovingly and nods and goes along with her whims and her petulant dog because it’s love, after all.
It’s at the corner bar where Paterson really comes to life, though. The bar is that sort of magical, perfect dive that’s homey and dark and pleasant and has jazz playing faintly in the background while patrons speak and drink quietly and play chess and just unwind. This place likely does not exist, but in Paterson’s Paterson it might as well. He talks to the owner about the town’s famous alumni, like Lou Costello, and smiles and laughs more than he does under any other circumstances. But he never comes up with poems at the bar. It’s his break, too.
The film has a somewhat meditative effect, which, I imagine for some, might also be a sedative one. That’s not a jab — this movie is not a passive, turn-your-brain-off experience.
If you let it, “Paterson” might just leave you reconsidering whatever awaits you after watching it, whether it’s taking out the garbage, shoveling the driveway or whatever other unsung banalities your future holds.