The dependably distinctive and rewarding Jim Jarmusch returns with a lovely, characteristically episodic fable about the fragile, fruitful and just occasionally fraught relationship between creativity and everyday life.
Chronicling a week in the life of Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus-driver and amateur poet whose home happens to be Paterson, New Jersey – home to William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg and Lou Costello, among others – the film depicts, day by inevitably slightly different day, his banal but unexpectedly engrossing routine: waking up with his designer/baker/would-be singer partner Laura (note the nod to Petrarch); walking English bulldog Marvin; taking a beer at a bar proud of its local history; and, for his work, ferrying and listening to a motley, oddly twin-heavy bunch of passengers around the New Jersey city. And at any time, but usually while walking or driving, if things go smoothly he’s thinking up verse rooted in his everyday experience. A matchbox, say, can inspire a love poem.
There’s so very much to enjoy here: Jarmusch’s wry script and beautifully becalmed direction, Fred Elmes’s quietly glowing photography, and utterly winning performances. Especially enjoyable are the three leads: the redoubtable Nellie as Marvin, Golshifteh Farahani as the aspirational Laura (whose unusual decorative taste gives rise to some delightful sight gags) and, best of all, Driver, who makes the protagonist watchful, pensive and quietly considerate, blending cautious optimism with the faintest whiff of melancholy.
Paterson’s verse – written, apparently, by Oklahoma-born poet Ron Padgett – appears on screen in handwriting as Driver’s voice hesitantly tests the sounds of the words; they fit the character like a favourite old suit. It’s a wholly unpretentious portrait of the artist as an everyman figure: Paterson’s encounter with a Japanese poet (Masatoshi Nagase from 'Mystery Train', again making a cultural pilgrimage) simply makes a little more explicit everything that has gone before. Art, the film suggests, is about first noticing then communing with the world around you. In that sense, it’s another wise, wonderful Jarmusch movie about the importance, in this sad and beautiful world, of friendship and love.