Paterson is a quietly refreshing balm for our troubled times, an antidote to both the sound and fury of the modern world and blockbuster action films. Watching this zen-like Groundhog Day love story, which follows a week in the life of a bus-driver poet, we are encouraged to appreciate the beauty of everyday moments without worrying about what will happen next.
Adam Driver is believably gentle and self-contained as Paterson, the budding poet who drives buses in smalltown Paterson, New Jersey, soaking up sights and conversations, then committing them to his notebook. With his calm friendliness, Paterson is light years away from Driver’s previous role as tantrum-throwing Star Wars baddie Kylo Ren.
Veteran indie director Jim Jarmusch’s film is set in a naturalistic world, but one imbued with his characters’ old-fashioned, quirky vision: Paterson has no mobile phone or laptop; the bar he visits has a chessboard rather than TV for entertainment; he carries a lunchbox shaped like his mailbox, owns a scene-stealing bulldog and sees more identical twins on his bus round than could sensibly be expected; gangstas talk about dog breeds and dog-napping, rather than ‘bitches’. But Jarmusch’s drama always feels ‘right’ and he never veers into self-indulgence.
Paterson has an enviably loving relationship with his vivacious wife Laura, played by Iranian actress Golshifeh Farahani. She bakes and sells cupcakes and aspires to be a country singer, encouraging him to make copies of his poems and try to get them published. They never fight or argue, allowing each other space to do their own thing. If all this sounds a bit twee, it isn’t; Paterson is a charming celebration of everyday love and affection.
Whenever they kiss or cuddle their bulldog rumbles his displeasure from the sofa. Down-in-the-mouth Marvin is a delightful character in his own right, with a comical range of groans and long-suffering glances, and he is essential to the biggest drama that unfolds in the film, as well as to the mystery of the wonky mailbox.
Paterson creates his poems from the material of everyday life. At breakfast he picks up a box of matches and plays with it. Later, as he drives his bus, a voiceover reads out the first draft of a love poem, as the lines appear for us to read onscreen, a bit dull at first, but becoming more lyrical:
‘We have plenty of matches in our house
We keep them on hand always …
So sturdy and furious
Waiting to burst into flame
To light the cigarette of the woman you love for the first time.’
It is no surprise that the poems read aloud here are written by a real poet, Ron Padgett.
Music throughout the film is low-key, making way for the words, but Jarmusch continues to cast musicians in bit-parts, with rapper Method Man practising his rhymes in a laundrette. Elsewhere, the youthful Iggy Pop appears in a newspaper cutting from 1970, pinned on the Paterson ‘hall of fame’ board in the local bar, as voted ‘sexiest man in the world’ by the town’s teenagers. Other local celebrities include Lou Costello, Sam from Sam and Dave and Paterson’s favourite poet, William Carlos Williams.