A humble, gentle, quietly brilliant film, Jim Jarmusch’s crowd-pleaser at Cannes is an ambling, whimsical ode to blue collar America, poetry and the unassuming beauty of everyday life. A warming story of a salt of the earth bus driver who is also a poet, it’s a film that requires you to slow down and reflect.
At the centre of the story is bus driver and hobbyist poet, Paterson (Adam Driver). As low-key an artist as they get, Paterson operates the 23 bus in his home town of Paterson, New Jersey. Every day he gets up in the early hours, kisses his partner, munches down a bowl of cheerios, walks to work, does his route, comes back, walks his dog and goes to a local bar before turning in. All the while he views the world like a poem yet to be written.
It’s a film where (heaven forbid) not much really happens. Paterson’s life is not inherently intriguing, nor is his life that of a struggling artist, but the exquisiteness is found in the dissection of his 9-5. As he drives his bus, he eavesdrops on wonderful soundbites of human interaction. Teenagers discuss anarchy and two dishevelled men contemplate why they haven’t had sex with gorgeous women. Paterson observes respectfully and silently. There’s also a charming relationship Paterson shares with his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), an eclectic, creative type with boundless amounts of energy. She bakes cupcakes, paints black and white patterns on everything and comes up with a new life-long ambition each day.
At first glance the tweeness of it all is a bit much. Paterson is good natured, his partner is good natured, even his dog is sort of good natured. However, the film side steps any over-indulgent sentimentality. A lesser film might capitalize on the adorable romance between Paterson and Laura, but Jarmusch has bigger fish to fry. Indeed, everything in this creation is about the nature of creativity in day to day lives that aren’t extraordinary. Laura and Paterson’s juxtaposing creative personalities play in to this theme then. Far from being boring and bijou, their paring is symbolic of something altogether more interesting.
A slow, sometimes even catatonic tale, Paterson is about that most intriguing subject – the artistic soul. But far from far from being absorbed by the gravity the concept might suggest, it unfolds unpretentiously and with tremendous poise.