For decades, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch has been one of New York City’s premiere auteurs with his own distinctively quirky way of telling stories about mild-mannered characters interacting with the rest of the world. With Paterson, he’s finally back with what may be his most accessible film since Broken Flowers.
Paterson’s title not only refers to the New Jersey city of the same name but also to Adam Driver as a bus driver that lives there. At first, we assume his nickname is “Paterson” due to the bus he drives, but that’s actually the name given to him at birth. When not driving the bus and listening to passengers’ chatter, Paterson writes poetry in his notebook—the first one we hear being a love poem involving matches—or spending time with his significant other Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), who has her own artistic inclinations as well as a persnickety bulldog named Marvin.
Much of the film lays out Paterson’s day-to-day activities where he has all sorts of unusual and random encounters, whether it’s people muttering about nonsense on his bus or the soap opera taking place at his nightly watering hole where he grabs a beer while walking Marvin. Granted, there isn’t much of a story to speak of and not very much happens, but there’s something to be said about the way Jarmusch explores one’s day-to-day routine and rituals of a man who has become accustomed to a certain slow pace.
What makes Paterson so special, however, is Jarmusch’s choice of Adam Driver as the lead since he perfectly captures the tone and style of delivering the filmmaker’s dialogue, very similar to what Bill Murray brought to Broken Flowers. In some ways, it makes Paterson a very relatable character, and Driver is able to get laughs with just the right look that often expresses how the viewer feels when listening to some of the chatter around town.
As good as Driver is, there’s something equally brilliant to how Jarmusch allows Marvin the dog to steal many of the scenes from his human co-star, just by being there for so many of Paterson’s conversations with Laura. Other funny moments arise from Laura’s constant obsession with black and white, as she’s is constantly almost everything in their house in black and white designs, a running gag that gets funnier as it goes along. Farahani is quite adorable as Laura in a similar way as Maria de Medeiros was in Pulp Fiction, in that her precocious nature makes it hard to get angry about her sometimes selfish and erratic behavior.(Coincidentally, both actresses appeared in Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s Chicken with Plums a few years back.)
Seemingly shot entirely in Paterson proper, Jarmusch is even able to make this deceptively mundane place seem as exotic as any of the more glamorous locations from past his films, and that alone is quite an amazing achievement. As much as the film is driven by Driver and Farahani, and most of the scenes that take place in their home, it’s when Paterson is out and about interacting with others that the film offers its most entertaining moments, even as he treats all of it as a normal routine. The idea that someone as enigmatic as Jarmusch could create something so mundane that it’s relatable is another coup for the film.
Ultimately, something quite devastating happens in the last part of the movie, and while it’s hard to imagine how Paterson will be able to get past it—don’t worry, Marvin doesn’t die—like everything else in his life, he takes it in stride and wakes up the next day to continue his normal routine. Maybe what Jarmusch is trying to say with his latest film is subtler or more open to interpretation, but it certainly seems to confirm that “life goes on” even after something life-changing happens.
Paterson is easily one of Jim Jarmusch’s funniest and most accessible films despite remaining as odd and quirky as his best work. Much of that can be credited to his choice in lead actors; Adam Driver perfectly channels Jarmusch’s sensibilities through his performance, creating a character so much easier to relate to then we normally got from the filmmaker’s previous films.
Paterson will open in select cities on Dec. 28, following its screening at the 54th New York Film Festival.