With a title that is both the name of the central character and the New Jersey city in which he lives, this latest offering from indie darling Jim Jarmusch is about a man who wakes at the same time every morning, walks to work, spends his day driving a bus, returns home to his wife before taking the dog for a walk each evening, making a stopover at a local bar along the way. That is literally what happens in Paterson over and over again as we follow Paterson (Adam Driver) of Paterson, New Jersey as he undertakes the same routine each day over the course of a week, accompanied by a voice-over of Paterson reciting the poems he drafts in the notebook that he is rarely without. You see, Paterson is a quiet guy and his poetry presents him with an opportunity to express emotions and observations of the world around him. It seems very simple, or simplistic perhaps, but Driver delivers such a subtly charismatic performance as the idiosyncratic Paterson that there is something quite delightful in watching him go about his day. A devotee of modernist poet William Carlos Williams, Paterson draws upon the unlikeliest inspirations for his writing, from a box of matches to the inane conversations heard on the bus each day.
Jarmusch has an eclectic body of work behind him (Night on Earth, Dead Man, Broken Flowers and the recent Only Lovers Left Alive amongst them) and has established a solid fan base for his unconventional characters and the worlds in which they live. Esteemed film critic Roger Ebert once declared that ‘there is a deep embedding of comedy, nostalgia, shabby sadness and visual beauty’ in Jarmusch’s films and that is very much the case with Paterson. There is both comedy and sadness embedded within the monotony of Paterson’s daily routine, usually at the exact same time; from the awkward, stilted conversations between Paterson and his supervisor Donny (Rizwan Manji), to the braggadocio of two bus passengers or Paterson’s quiet submission to the latest idea from his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) that will inevitably cost him money. There is no doubt that Paterson is very much in love with his wife, yet he still feels the need to escape her high energy, eminently optimistic outlook on life with his nightly visits to the bar where he has one beer and where conversation with bartender Doc (Barry Henley) invariably revolves around the Wall of Fame (featuring Lou Costello and other local luminaries) that adorns a wall behind the bar.
Farahani, the daughter of Iranian filmmaker Behzad Farahani, is terrific as Laura, a vivacious, somewhat whimsical but utterly devoted wife who spends her days baking cupcakes, decorating the house with black and white patterns or embarking on her latest flight of fancy to be a country and music star. Having been banned from leaving Iran at one stage after starring in Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies, Farahani has since featured in several films in Europe and America, including Rosewater and Exodus: Gods and Kings. Here, she takes a character that could very easily be annoying and insufferable and makes her into somebody who is simultaneously sweet and sexy.
The cinematography from Frederick Elmes presents the city of Paterson as a quiet, contemplative place and every frame is beautifully rendered. It is fantastic to see characters living in a house that actually reflects the reality of their social status. Too often, characters supposedly entrenched in the working class reside in residences that suggest an altogether different reality, but in Paterson everything looks exactly as you might expect for the couple at the centre of the story. The poems were written by Ron Padgett, a poet influenced by Williams and others such as Allen Ginsberg and whilst the voice-over and accompanying on-screen text seems a little pretentious at first, you soon find yourself desperate to discover more of Paterson’s writing. There is nothing special about Paterson the person or Paterson the city, but Paterson the movie is a sheer delight. Beautifully articulated by those on both sides of the camera, Paterson is a quiet, contemplative, moving piece of cinema.