“We have plenty of matches in our house. We keep them on hand always.”
Many modern movies go for a flashy sense of pageantry, prancing around with their breasts upturned to the wind and chins held high, their stories boiled and burned in a high heated cast iron contemporary sense of egotism. Here’s where Paterson differs. This is a Boy Scout of a film, showcasing the patience it takes to naturally make a fire whilst embroidering badges on its own chest only after earning the merit. It breathes life into itself through the pedantic everyman nature of individuals content in their place but still searching for their purpose. To see this movie is to know its quiet, normalized, conversational approach to an impassioned and personal pursuit of the blemished and imperfect art of living.
Adam Driver headlines as an amiable bus driver named Paterson in the city of Paterson, New Jersey. His character’s name is purposeful; this man is so bound by his surroundings that he identifies not as a piece of the puzzle but as the label on the box (it’s also quietly hilarious that Driver’s surname is his character’s occupation). Paterson is refined and respectful in a way that’s tasteful and honorific without ever being bombastic or exclamatory. With these decisions, the story chooses to illustrate and to highlight the patterned mannerisms and inner trappings of the service men and women in any thankless occupation who we regularly take for granted. The results are astounding, using a plain plot that’s elevated through an unapologetic belief in humanism and an appreciation for people who prefer to live quietly and modestly.
I doubt that Paterson, a whispering willow of a movie, can or will initially blow you away. And still I’m here thinking about its simplicity, its noble and humble approach to a very particular mindset. The alarm on Paterson’s wrist watch rings, he goes to work, comes home to eat an inventive meal made by his quirky girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). Then takes their dog for a walk, stops by a little dive bar, wakes up to repeat the process the following morning. That sounds boring on paper, but in the hands of filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, Paterson’s peculiarities become the most lingering of its qualities. During the monotony of the work week, opening the doors to passengers and making turns and taking the same rote route, Paterson writes poetry. It’s reflective and beautiful, inspired by the people and the sights he takes in daily. He’s a passionate and reserved writer. In a dry piece of humor, we watch a driver who feels stuck; an electrical failure eventually leaves his bus broken down. So even as he supports the eclectic endeavors of Laura (most of which are a monochromatic B&W, suggesting her lack of colorful creativity), Paterson is the only real artist between them. Laura knows this, and her challenge is to provoke an introvert into sharing his gift and his insight with the world.
Paterson is a movie about a man who loves hearing the minutia and the balladry between commonplace folks who have common conversations. It’s no small wonder that this observant film speaks and listens in that exact same way. Jarmusch keeps the lovely relationship between Laura and Paterson front and center while memorable moments pass by in the fleeting transactions with soon to be forgotten strangers. Farahani brings a playful, childlike half-glass full sentimentality to her role, enriching this earnest woman with a staid yet sweet heart. Playing opposite such a bubbly personality, Adam Driver gives the most steady, stoic, and subdued performance of his career thus far. It’s not a showy role, but the dexterity and hesitation in his expressions endure. Like Paterson, you don’t notice change when you see the same people/things everyday. Time apart is the only way to alter the internalized and embedded appearances of the pasts that we hold in our minds. Change is necessary for growth, and this one buds on you like a vine, so slow and unpredictable, writhing around any and every piece you allow it to touch. Let Paterson reap what it wants to sow and you’ll someday be rewarded.
“Wherever it hits me is where it’s gonna be.”
Rating: 4 out of 5