Paterson (2016) is the name of Adam Driver’s character, a blue collar city bus driver; the location, Paterson, NJ; and a reference to a book of poetry by William Carlos Williams, a son of Paterson (the city) and the favorite poet of Paterson (the man), who is also a poet. Got it?
Paterson pens his modest odes—most of them inspired by his wife Laura (Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani of About Elly)—in the seat of his bus before beginning his route or sitting on a park bench at lunch, scribbling the phrases he’s worked out while watching the world go past his windshield or eavesdropping on the conversations of passengers. He’s a man with a routine, which may be why he adores his wife so much—she has a new dream seemingly every day and she gives each new project all the passion she has—and why he heads to his local watering hole every night and back into familiar rhythms.
This is Jim Jarmusch in the mode of the unassuming poet of everyday American dreamers, taking in the rhythms of life in the blue collar city and celebrating the artistic impulses and creative projects that bring color to our lives: a teenage girl scribbling her own poetry, a bartender (Barry Shabaka Henley) with a wall dedicated to the greatest sons of Paterson, NJ, Laura’s black-and-white designs adorning everything from her handmaid curtains to her fledgling cupcake business. The humor is low key and the narrative a lazy drift through a week in Paterson’s life, which has its own, inviolable routine.
Jarmusch, the great minimalist of American cinema, embraces the repetition in his storytelling but is—like Paterson—attuned to the variations of each day. The wonder comes in the grace notes and delightful coincidences, poetic motifs that constantly pop up in the life of Paterson (watch for the twins that keep weaving through his story), and the warmth in the way he appreciates those moments. Paterson hasn’t any grand ambitions—even his poetry is a private pleasure, so different from Laura’s exuberance in sharing her creative activities with the world—but it doesn’t make his art or his life any less meaningful.
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