Sometimes in film, there are stories that capture the simple things in life, by examining a character inhabiting their everyday life, and these stories do not need to have complex emotions, or dramatic tension to make them interesting, they are interesting because they of their simplicity. Paterson is one such film, and writer director Jim Jarmusch, and star Adam Driver, take the audience through a week in life of a bus driver, and poet. The film does not have wild twists and turns, or take the audience on any kind of emotional rollercoaster, but what it does do is create seven little stories, each a little different, yet still very much the same.
Driver plays the lead character, Paterson, who drives a bus in the town of Paterson New Jersey, and writes poetry in his spare time, both at work and at home. The film tells a story each day that starts and ends almost the same, as he wakes up around 6:15-6:30, puts on his watch, kisses his girlfriend, and heads off to work. Paterson always walks to and from work, drives his route, comes home, eats dinner, takes the dog for a walk, and stops off for a drink at the local bar. All of these elements happen every one of the weekdays in the film, and while they all have these similar elements, it is the world around Paterson that add even the littlest bit of change to his daily routine. His girlfriend Laura is played by Golshifteh Farahani, she is a stay at home artist who tinkers each day with something new, creating clothes, drapery, food, and even picks up learning the guitar. Her creativity is in contrast to Paterson, who is extremely reserved, and while his poetry shows that artistic passion, he keeps it hidden in his secret journal, which fits with the characters closed off persona. The only other variations in the basic formula of Paterson’s life come from the stories contained in bar. Each night offers a little more to the story, as the barkeep Doc, Barry Shabaka Henley, converses with Paterson about the history of the city, adding items to his wall of fame for famous people and moments from Paterson. The bar scenes also feature a young couple going through a difficult breakup, something Paterson clearly does not want to be involved in. These moments of change are compelling, as break up the monotony of Paterson’s day to day life, and make the film a little more interesting than it would be otherwise.
While the character study is interesting enough to keep interest, the performances are a little too understated. Driver is very muted in his acting throughout the film, something he is actually fairly good at, but the film maybe could have featured some more emotion from Paterson, because the character simply exists, and while he is ok with his own existence, his stark contrast to the rest of the characters cause him to stand out, and not always in the best way. Farahani plays Laura as energetic and optimistic, she believes in herself, and in Paterson, though he either doesn’t believe it, or doesn’t want to. While the two show a passion for each other in the moments each morning, they do not have that same spark in their other scenes because of how closed off Paterson is, something that makes you wonder how and why they are together.
Where this movie shines is in the directing, and Jarmusch does a wonderful job framing each scene, and the way that each day is shot the same way hammers home the sameness of Paterson’s life. The film also does an amazing job showing off Paterson’s poetry, as narration from Driver, combined with writing on screen, and shots of Driver actually writing, bring the poems to life. It is also a nice touch that the poems are not just read, they are worked on, with some lines recited again and again, with new lines then added to show the process of writing, as oppose to just reading the end result. The poems are also good, which is an absolute necessity when making a movie about a character who is a poet.
Paterson is not a movie for everybody, as it is a slow moving work that takes a look a character that aside from the wonderful poetry, isn’t all that interesting. Luckily for the film, the characters around Paterson are interesting enough, so that the film does not drag on. Fans of Driver’s understated performances in other works will probably enjoy the film, though some of the humor, and energy from past films is noticeably absent from this one, and had either been present, Paterson may have been elevated to something truly special.