After years of films containing varying degrees of violence and/or cynicism, writer/director Jim Jarmusch returns to his mellow-hipster roots with Paterson. Though the rigid formalism of Stranger Than Paradise and Down by Law has long since been abandoned, this is still vintage Jarmusch, with its lackadaisical pacing, its focus on the "unimportant" moments of real life, its love of a well-timed fade-to-black, and its celebration of American diversity. It's also his sweetest and perhaps most meaningful work.
Adam Driver stars as the titular Paterson – it's not clear whether it's his first, last, or only name. Paterson lives and works in Paterson, New Jersey; the twinning of the names is part of the film's intermittent fascination with twins. The setting isn't just a gag, either: Paterson was also an epic poem by William Carlos Williams, a hero of the film's protagonist. Like Williams, and many others name-checked in the film, Paterson is a poet with a prosaic day job: he's a bus driver for the city. Paterson the film is a tribute to these humble writers, who dedicate themselves to an art form that none could ever expect to make a living at.
Paterson documents a week in the life of Paterson, day by day, as he goes through his routine: waking up next to his artist girlfriend (a bubbly Golshifteh Farahani), walking to work, driving his bus, listening to passengers, scribbling some lines when he can (the poems presented in the film are by Ron Padgett), having a quiet dinner at home, then taking his dog for a walk and having a beer at the bar. Yet each day brings new insights; there is no trace of dull repetition for this man, or for the film he inhabits. Instead, we become invested in the small details of his life.
Driver's character is a role model. Loving and giving, he supports his girlfriend throughout all her nutty ideas and has a genuine fondness for the people around him. There isn't a mean-spirited bone in his body. This film, with its abundance of positivity and humanism, really inspired me, especially at a time when people – including and perhaps especially yours truly – have become so impatient, self-centered, judgmental, and angry. I am trying to hold on to the spirit of Paterson for as long as I can. It's a film that can change a person.
Sadly, snarkier filmgoers may find it all a bit twee. (It may not help that significant screen time is given to Paterson's ugly-cute English bulldog.) Hopefully you can get past that, because this generous film has so much to offer (not least of which are funny cameos by Method Man and the two kids from Moonrise Kingdom). And the electronic soundtrack by Sqürl – a duo consisting of Jarmusch and producer Carter Logan – sets the perfect mood.