“Paterson,” A Wonder of a Film


Written and Directed by Jim Jarmusch

Amazon Studios

Rated: R


In the 80’s, Director Jim Jarmusch’s ironical, whimsical, quirky, and funny films such as “Down By Law” and “Mystery Train” felt like revelations of something truly new and Indie filmmaking’s essence. Over time though, releases of a new Jarmusch film weren’t quite the events they once were.

Absence of anticipation will enhance your gratification discovering his new film “Paterson,” which reflects Jarmusch’s refreshing new sincerity, which moves beyond the irony that had characteristically marked his films.

Paterson (Adam Driver) lives in the small city of Paterson in northern New Jersey with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). His job is bus driver, but his vocation is writing poetry. The film’s minimalist structure is one of its charms.

It takes place from one Monday to the next. Each new day begins with the couple in bed; their sleep positions – back to back, face to face, she resting her head on her chest – their routine’s only modifications.

Watch in hand, Paterson awakens at 6:15 am and walks down the city’s narrow, serpentine streets, and assumes his seat in his NJ Transit bus.

Stealing moments before his shift, Paterson works on that day’s poem when his supervisor Donny (Rizwan Manji) greets him and complains hyperbolically about his life that’s falling apart.

At lunch, Paterson takes his lunchbox and sits on a bench and watches the city’s spectacular waterfall. And inspired by Laura’s photograph taped to his lunchbox, Paterson works on his poetry.

He returns home at night, and eats dinner with Laura. After dinner, he walks his English bulldog Marvin, and stops at the neighborhood bar. Paterson drinks one beer, which he doesn’t finish, and returns home.

There, in a sense, is your movie. But “Paterson” is much richer than that. Bus driver and poet, on the surface, may seem like an unlikely juxtaposition, but Paterson’s work enhances his poetry because he goes everywhere, sees everything, and allows himself to smile as he overhears his bus’s passengers.

Two adolescent boys discuss one of the city’s natives Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. Memorialized in song and film, he was falsely accused of murder and later exonerated.

One of the boys says, “Denzel looked like him,” conflating film illusion with actuality, revealing the gentle humor, which marks Jarmusch’s films. The film also celebrates other city notables: Lou Costello, Dave of soul music duo Sam and Dave, and anarchist Gaetano Bresci.

Much of the joy you experience watching “Paterson” derives from its celebration of poetry and poets. As you hear Paterson work out that day’s poem in his mind, the words appear on the screen, deepening our appreciation for how a poet brings a poem to life, as if we discover the process for the first time.

Paterson takes an ordinary object – a matchstick – and looks beyond its practical purpose to create an image – the matchstick that lights your lover’s cigarette – that evokes a surprisingly gratifying response.

Laura encourages Paterson to publish his poems, but he doesn’t seem motivated to do that. As Laura nurtures his poetry, Paterson lovingly indulges Laura’s ever changing creative outlets.

One day, she’s convinced her cupcakes are the next big things, and the next she orders an expensive guitar, sure she’s the next great country singer.

All the while her obsession with black and white polka  dots – the walls, drapes, and shirts she wears –  almost overwhelms them. The film celebrates how these well-suited foils nurture each other to be the people they’re called to be.

Also very good in the new film “Silence,” Driver well modulates the subdued Paterson’s movements and expressions, his hangdog face always portraying the right measure of emotion. And the Iranian actress Farahani is vivid, striking and winsome as Laura.

Except for one moment at the bar when Paterson intervenes to stop a lovesick acquaintance Everett (William Jackson Harper) from harming others, there’s little dramatic tension in “Paterson.” More than a drama or a comedy, an observation might be a better way to describe the film.

It observes two people, affirming each other, who re-discover the blank page’s power to write their lives’ poems each day. Amid the glut of more high-profile Oscar contenders, don’t overlook “Paterson,” one of 2016’s best films. You’ll kick yourself if you miss this wonder of a film.