Paterson, directed by Jim Jarmusch and starring Adam Driver, is admittedly not my kind of film. I’ve always preferred a film to have some kind of narrative hook – be it sci-fi twists, crime capers or whatever else. I typically don’t do well with slice of life films where very little happens.That was not the case with Paterson. The film sees Driver playing a…driver. Specifically, a bus driver named Paterson who lives in Paterson, New Jersey. We see his life play out across a week. There are no twists, no moments of true tension – simply the events of a man’s life as they happen.
Paterson is a poet who lives with his wife Laura, played by Golshifteh Farahani. She stays at home while he goes out to work, pursuing a myriad of creative fancies that involve repainting their home, designing monochromatic cupcakes and buying a fancy guitar at Paterson’s expense. They also own a dog, who serves as somewhat of a nemesis for Driver. Despite her flights of fancy, the two are very much in love. Meanwhile, the main character heads to work, where he writes poetry in a notebook between shifts driving the bus around the town.
In its gentleness, Paterson is a relief. It’s a film that feels comfortable to watch, a true sense of small-town living on the screen. Like the modernist poet, William Carlos Williams, who inspires Paterson so much, he too writes about the easygoing poetry his life offers. At one point, he narrates as he writes: ‘I knock off work, have a beer at the bar. I look down at the glass, and I feel glad.’
Through his numerous encounters with local people, the beauty of overhead conversations and the conflict between his poetry and his inability to share it – we see enough of Paterson’s life for us to be intrigued without ever truly intruding. There are glimmers of a backstory, such as a photo of him in army attire which is later backed up when he jumps into action at a bar, but nothing is ever confirmed.
Instead, we are left to ponder Paterson’s life as he ponders through it. Quiet, unassuming and portrayed excellently by the emergent Adam Driver, this is a film that sees the poetry in everyday things. Even at the most tragic point of the narrative, the main character simply takes a walk and gets back on track.
In an age of film that throws explosions and high drama at you, Jim Jarmusch’s carefully constructed exploration of life in a humble town is something lyrical. A poem on screen, about a poet, in a poetic town.
Final thoughts: I enjoyed Paterson thanks to all the things it lacked. There was no real antagonist, no real central conflict. Instead, it was a gentle study of a man’s life. Finding beauty in the smaller, quieter places of our lives. Plus, I’m a sucker for poetry.
Rating: 7.5 Bananas. Not for everyone, but a lovingly crafted, gentle film that is the antithesis of big budget cinema.