In Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, Adam Driver plays a Paterson, New Jersey, bus driver named Paterson. Paterson is a poet, and, when you think about it, bus driver is a perfect job for someone who eavesdrops and observes, and who needs time to rework phrases in his head. Paterson the movie is a genial, occasionally very funny, portrait of an artist’s creative process.
There’s not much overt action or conflict in Paterson. Every morning Paterson awakes between 6:09 and 6:27 AM, kisses the cheek or naked shoulder of his girlfriend Laura and heads to the kitchen for coffee and Cheerios. While his bus is warming up, he drafts and edits poems in his notebook until his supervisor appears at his bus. After work, he walks home past old factories and straightens his leaning mailbox. After dinner, he walks Laura’s bulldog Marvin and stops for exactly one beer at the neighborhood tavern. The bus, the bar and Paterson’s time going to and fro constitute the platform for his art: finding material for observation and for crafting and recrafting poems.
The city of Paterson is a perfect setting for this story. Paterson is not a tourist destination, and there doesn’t seem to be much interesting in the place that boasts of its memorial to Lou Costello. But a careful, open-minded observer like Paterson can revel in the beauty of the Great Falls of the Passaic River and find interest in all the dingy places and seemingly ordinary denizens.
Paterson doesn’t share any of his poetry, except VERY occasionally to Laura; in Paterson, he even chooses to quote her a poem from someone else when she asks for one of his. Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), a suitably kooky artist, is impractical and adorable, and obsessed with black and white. She seems as frivolous as Paterson is deep, but he is devoted to her, and she lightens his life and is the unrelenting cheerleader for his poetry.
Paterson is filled with sly humor, much coming from the antics of the regular folks that Paterson encounters, along with Laura’s goofiness. I particularly enjoyed the two guys on bus talking about women they think have hit on them and the knowitall college student posing as an anarchist. At my screening, wry chuckles kept erupting in the audience.
To make sure we’re paying attention (and enjoying the film on other levels), Jarmusch has filled it with patterns, with recurring themes like twins and secrets and with repeated phrases. Paterson meets three other poets – none anything like him – and at the most unexpected locales.
For Paterson to work, an actor is needed who has the charisma to be interesting while acting very passively. Adam Driver is the perfect choice, and he is exceptional. I also really liked Barry Shabaka Henley as Doc, the tavern’s proprietor and bartender.
Not everyone will enjoy Paterson, but I did. A viewer needs to appreciate the juxtaposition of a routine exterior with an artist’s sometimes bursting inner dialogue. I recommend settling in and going for the ride. Paterson is now available on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.