To criticise Paterson is to try to fit it into a box it isn’t made to fit. You might think the film lacks enough plot, or humour, or drama but it has exactly as much plot, humour, and drama as writer-director Jim Jarmusch wants it to have. If you dislike Paterson then you and Jarmusch are just going to have to agree to disagree.
In Paterson we spend seven days in the life of Paterson (Adam Driver), and to a lesser extent his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), as he goes about his business. Every day Paterson gets up, walks to work, drives a bus around the city of Paterson, walks home, briefly indulges in Laura’s latest fantasy, and then walks their dog to his local bar. Lather, rinse, repeat. In his spare moments Paterson write poems; beautifully mundane poems about small moments written for the film by Ron Padgett. Laura urges Paterson to share his poems but he seems content to live his life and keep his poems as a private expression.
Paterson has no dramatic plot twists, emotional blowouts, or stunning visuals. Like Paterson’s poetry Paterson delights in the minutiae of day-to-day life and the film, running to nearly two hours, allows you to soak up Paterson’s daily routine. As you become familiar with the patterns of Paterson’s days the repetition becomes reassuring and comforting, and the tiny differences leap out at you in all their insignificance. If Paterson is a poem then each day makes up a verse with plenty of rhyming in between.
Adam Driver is the perfect man to tackle this understated role; his expressive face says so much as his character says so little. He plays Paterson as a humble man who keeps his own emotions to himself while absorbing everything from those around him. As a constant observer it is easy to easy to see how Paterson might come to express himself through prose. As his bus moves inconspicuously through the city so Paterson goes unnoticed in the town that is his namesake taking us along for the ride. Paterson, and Paterson, teaches us to look and listen and revel in the details. By the end of the film we might as well be Paterson; few films will have you this absorbed in the life of their lead character.
A perfect unassuming film that celebrates the undramatic wonder of the everyday, Paterson is a charmer. Just don’t go expecting anything explosive.