There's not a heck of a lot that happens in Jim Jarmusch's latest minimal effort, Paterson. And you know what? It's absolutely wonderful. There's beauty and profundity to be found in the ordinary, the ho-hum lives of the working class. There's also potential, great potential for wit and wisdom that too often goes unnoticed as the rest of us speed along keeping to ourselves. But Paterson teaches us to stop, look around, and take in all of the beauty that is right there if only we open our eyes.
The title is both interesting and potentially annoying if played the wrong way, for Paterson is both the name of the New Jersey city the film takes place in, and the name of the character portrayed by Adam Driver. Ugh, right? Fortunately, little is ever made of the connection other than one passing conversation. But we soon learn that Paterson is more than just a guy with a coincidental name, he's a part of the city's heart and soul.
For Paterson represents the blue collar spirit and artful soul of the city. He is a bus driver, one of the most thankless jobs in anywhere. But he's also a poet, who scribbles down little notes in his book, often from ideas gifted to him by his lovely and devoted wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). A lovely sprite of a woman, with a creative mind different than his, she may wake up from a dream about them having twins, and his day will be full of thoughts on twins, which he will put to paper. He walks to work every day with his little metal lunchbox, listens to his boss's daily gripes, then comes home to his wife. Afterwards he may take the dog for a walk and stop at the local bar. It's all so simple.
I kept waiting for something horrible to happen. Laura's a bit mercurial and demanding, maybe she's screwing the lovesick Paterson over somehow? Maybe the dog gets dognapped or something from outside the bar? No, the film follows him day-by-day, and everything looks the same. We learn a ton about the city of Paterson and its most famous residents. A welcome treat is a brief appearance by Moonrise Kingdom stars Kara Heyward and Jared Gilman as unnamed wannabe anarchists, and I would like to think they are playing the same rebellious kids as before. It's the most bright-eyed and hopeful movie Jarmusch has ever done, with the sweetest duo he's ever wanted us to follow. Certainly they aren't the rock star vampires of Only Lovers Left Alive, another of Jarmusch's odes to the creatively gifted.
That Paterson moves at a languid pace shouldn't be an indication that it is slow or dull. Like good poetry it moves at its own speed and every detail, every syllable, has profound impact. The purchase of a guitar may seem like a minor thing but in the lives of Paterson and Laura it can be everything. Heck, somehow they find a way to make a box of Ohio Blue Tip matches seem like an artifact from a long-lost civilization. It's charming to live in Paterson and Laura's world, in which every day is about taking life as it comes, even the bad stuff. We become so attuned to it that returning to the regular world for us takes some getting used to. If Jarmusch's Paterson tells us anything it's that occasionally we should take time to slow down and find virtue in the things we too often take for granted.