Amazon Studios 115 minutes R
This film is an exercise in patience watching a very thorough and detailed character study. It is slow moving and there are times when we expected or wanted something to happen, but the snail pace established by Writer/ Director Jim Jarmusch (Coffee and Cigarettes, Down by Law) has a definite purpose. He wrote the script 20 years ago.
We all repeat the same things over and over again during our daily lives. Paterson, the man, is no exception. Adam Driver, plays a very different role from what we have seen in the past. He is a bus driver named Paterson in Paterson, New Jersey taking passengers around the historic town. He is a listener, not a talker. And he soaks in the chattering from his passengers’ conversations, thinks about them, and writes poetry whenever he has down time. You may recognize Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, the young couple in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, having a conversation on the bus.
Nothing seems to rattle Paterson. Not even his stunning and adorable wife, Laura, played by Golshifteh Farahani. (Just Like a Woman, upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean) They say opposites attract and this is no exception. Laura is full of childlike wonder and energy. She’s a dreamer in a constant state of change. One day she is painting black and white designs on everything from the walls to their shower curtains, even the clothes she’s wearing. She even makes black and white decorated cupcakes to sell at a Farmer’s Market which sell very well. Next, she buys a guitar, practicing to try to sing herself into stardom in Nashville.
Paterson is charmed and entertained by her energy. And she is a total fan of his poetry, constantly begging him to make a copy to safeguard it. She wants him to share his beautiful prose with the world. They love each other so much.
Paterson is a very passive and pleasant fellow. You don’t know if he can’t show emotion or if it’s simmering under the surface. He is truly a creature of habit. Every day he and his wife are seen sleeping with arms around each other as the alarm goes off between 6 and 6:30am. He has his coffee and walks to work to get his bus and drive the route. He writes poetry when he can, comes home the same way every night, notices the same people every day. He rights the mailbox on his lawn which goes back to leaning every day and takes their funny bull dog, Marvin, for a walk every night, planting him outside his neighborhood bar. Paterson has his beer and sees friends but doesn’ interact with them much. He gets Marvin and goes home. Ritual complete. You begin to wonder where this is leading.
Paterson is perfectly content to write for himself in the same notebook he carries to work and puts back in his basement at home where he continues to write. His poetry is thoughtful. He obviously enjoys the process. The poems were actually written by a poet Director Jamusch went to school with in New York. The director is a fan of Ron Padgett’s work and reached out a few years ago telling him he was working on a film involving poetry. Jamusch picked out 4 of the poets works and then told Padgett that, if he felt like writing something for the film, have at it. He wrote 4 poems, 3 of which are in the film plus his Ohio Blue Tips Poem from an earlier collection. As Paterson reads his poems, we see them written out on the screen over pretty scenes of the sleepy town.
Paterson, New Jersey was developed by Alexander Hamilton for industrialization and comes up in the Broadway musical. Now it’s not as bustling and it’s laid back existence is the perfect backdrop for this slow moving tribute to a city that has had some notable residents. You see pictures of some in the film, including comedian Lou Costello, polio vaccine discoverer, Albert Sabin, and it’s where poet Allen Ginsberg grew up.
Of course, something finally happens with Paterson’s poems and it’s a surprising dramatic arc. Will the life of this loving couple continue? Adam Driver is so sweet in this role. This is a charming film, but you need to have patience to relive his days over and over again to see what contentment can mean to some people. It feels something like Ground Hog Day laced with poetry and love.