Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Barry Shabaka Henley, William Jackson Harper, Chasten Harmon
Words: N. Scatcherd
Even as a committed Jim Jarmusch fan, I wasn’t sure about Paterson at first. It distillates and purifies the laidback, meandering, low-key interest in the minutiae of life that all Jarmusch films engage in to various degrees, stripping away narrative urgency to the point where there isn’t even much of a narrative at all. This is a film about ‘the little things’, even more so than usual in a Jarmusch film. But while its unhurried nature – which could be interpreted as a kind of aimlessness if one was feeling unkind – may initially beg the question: “is anything actually going to happen?”, something gradually happened to me as I watched it. I began to smile, fondly and without cynicism, in the same way our protagonist, bus driver Paterson (Driver) – who funnily enough shares his name with the city of Paterson, New Jersey in which he lives and works – smiles at the small moments of beauty, happenstance and kindness he sees around him; the things that inspire the modest, earnest poetry he pens in his ‘secret notebook’.
Paterson is played with a quiet, observant curiosity by Driver, who really is a fantastic presence. He conveys a world of emotion with one doe-eyed glance or barely suppressed chuckle. He goes to the same bar every evening and engages in friendly small talk with the barman (Henley). He walks his English bulldog, Marvin (who steals every scene he’s in, by the way) and enjoys an apparently idyllic relationship with his black-and-white obsessed, cupcake-baking girlfriend Laura (Farahani), who harbours a dream of becoming a country singer. Her whimsical kookiness could be kind of irritating, but Farahani and Driver so well inhabit the lived-in chemistry of a couple in genuine love that it actually comes off as sincerely touching. When she talks about her dreams, bakes strange pies and paints the shower curtains in her beloved two-tone colour scheme, Paterson laughs with her, not at her; fondly, lovingly. Pretty soon I was doing the same.
Paterson isn’t the kind of film you can really talk about in terms of ‘plot’, and anyway, the whole joy of it comes from allowing its gentle magic to take hold as we experience a week in the life of this humble everyman figure, enjoying the small, quiet beauties of life along with him. Paterson is a warm, tender examination of the things it’s easy to take for granted sometimes; love, humour, compassion. It left me with a renewed sense of optimism and appreciation for the good in every day. Maybe that sounds silly; I don’t really care. It’s the kind of experience everyone deserves to have every now and again.