The movies that people typically swarm to theaters to see are the ones that sound exciting from their description alone. An eclectic superhero team splitting up and fighting across the globe? That’s a moneymaker worth billions. But deep within the independent film scene, invaluable treasures are waiting to be discovered and perhaps more deserving of your hard-earned money.
“Paterson” is one such film. It’s an abstract film that’s difficult to write about or casually recommend: its most accurate synopsis is ‘a week in the life of a bus driver who writes poetry’. There’s not much more to the story than that. But for those willing to dig deeper, “Paterson” is an immensely rewarding experience: a very different movie about sameness.
From a plot perspective, “Paterson” is about as standard as whatever day you were having before sitting down to watch the film. Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver who lives in Paterson, New Jersey with his artist girlfriend (Golshifteh Farahani) and an English bulldog that rather annoys him. Every weekday morning he gets up and drives the same bus route, his only respite a short break that he uses to write poetry about his humble life. He returns home, indulges his girlfriend’s latest artistic passion, and walks the dog to a bar where he relaxes with one beer. Rinse and repeat five times, with a bit more variety during the weekend.
Yes, “Paterson” is seven days in a normal person’s routine. But this is a Jim Jarmusch film. The enduring indie writer/director has made 12 modest movies over the last 37 years, and they are all tonally similar: deliberately slow, minimalist, and without discernible structure. You have to actively look for substance while watching and there is certainly much to be found in “Paterson” — discovering it trains one to find purpose in their everyday life.
Jarmusch’s screenplay tucks away its wisdom in life’s little contradictions. It finds meaning in relationships by depicting aloneness, in special moments by depicting routine, in mundanity by depicting the beauty in its interruption. Just like the character Paterson writes poetry that refuses to rhyme, the movie “Paterson” flows soulfully with the poetry of simple life. It’s not grand precisely because its aspirations are personal and subtle.
Jarmusch’s direction accomplishes the same goal, perhaps even more quietly. Visual rhymes build a picture of a life that has purpose, masked by a tedious job and a predictable workweek. Love sonnets and happy coincidences find partners in images scattered throughout the movie, asking if Paterson creates his own meaning or if he is rather finding it in the world.
Though some abnormal events during the weekend help catch our attention (which actually distracts from the film’s hypnotic vibe), this is a slow and long movie that will require patience. And it’s worth it.
That’s not say there’s no entertainment value: watching Adam Driver’s mature performance is exciting as he’s becoming one of the greats. His interplay with Farahani is delightful, and the presence of their dog — which just won a posthumous movie dog award — adds doses of hilarity.
Catch “Paterson” at your local indie theater. End your long week with an artful look into another.
★★★★½ (4.5 out of 5)