After his detour to a galaxy far far away, Adam Driver returns to his indie roots to star in Paterson, a comedy drama written and directed by idiosyncratic filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. The plot follows the humdrum life of Paterson (Driver), a bus driver who lives in the small city of Paterson, New Jersey. In his downtime, he writes poetry inspired by his gentle observations of his surroundings, and is encouraged by his wacky wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) to turn his musings into more than just a hobby. We spend a week in his laid back schedule, from his early rises for work to his nightly walk with his wife’s bulldog Marvin during which he stops off to enjoy a crafty beer in his local jazz bar, soaking it up in his continuous state of content contemplation.
The narrative is structured to enhance the tedious nature of Paterson’s routine, using the same shots and angles day-to-day to get this idea across. His mundane lifestyle is juxtaposed with the poems that provide a creative outlet for him, and this contrast is interesting to see. There’s also some fun to be had in the way in which his verses are formed. As he studies the streets of Paterson through the windows of his vehicle like a radio-friendly Travis Bickle, seeds are planted in his mind which playfully pop up on the screen, illustrating his thought process in cursive font. The concept is clever but rather one-note, and his working week, like that of many, becomes a bit of a slog when the blandness begins to exceed the initial allure. There’s no sign of conflict in the story to break up the monotony, and not enough humour for the lack of conflict not to matter.
With fare of this ilk, Adam Driver is very much in his comfort zone, enjoying the quirkiness of the material and giving profundity to a character who is quintessentially boring. Luckily though, Laura is the yin to Paterson’s yang, and her amusing eccentricities mix well with his droll sense of humour. While Paterson is reluctant to pursue his poetry or to share his work with anyone, she sporadically shifts her artistic attention daily from fashion to baking, and then to music, and is naively driven by her passions. Golshifteh Farahani captures her oddness and one-dimensionality well and this shallowness works alongside Driver’s depth.
Paterson has a fascinating idea at its core, and both Driver and Farahani are incredibly natural inhabitants in Jim Jarmusch’s unhurried mumblecore milieu. No matter how profound and relatable the story and it’s central character are, it’s execution is like poetry in slow motion. It undoubtedly has its charms but the repetitive pacing and deliberate ordinarity eventually result in restricting the enjoyment somewhat, to the point that at the end of each of his working days, it isn’t just Paterson who feels the need to escape to the pub for an hour or so.