Movie review: Paterson captivates through poetry and performance

Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson stars Adam Driver and weaves a fascinating, poetic story around the daily routines of a bus driver. Bleecker Street Media Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson stars Adam Driver and weaves a fascinating, poetic story around the daily routines of a bus driver. Bleecker Street Media

Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is the culmination of every adjective used to describe the director’s work—poetic, intelligent, philosophical, gorgeous—but with a sense of grounding that makes its style and themes that much more effective. A Jarmusch film is most often an exploration of the artist’s own influences; while he never artificially inserts himself or reduces his characters to mouthpieces, it is never a surprise when the leads begin discussing Iggy Pop in detail. Paterson takes this one step further by actively illustrating an artist’s relationship with inspiration, the process of channeling everyday events and occurrences into art, in an accessible and naturalistic way.

Paterson
R, 118 minutes
Violet Crown Cinema

The film follows a man named Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey. Paterson (the man) is an amateur poet and a creature of habit, for whom spending time writing verse in his private notebook is as regularly scheduled as walking to work or eating lunch. Paterson lives with his girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and their bulldog. She is also an artist, a creator of visually striking furniture and cupcakes, with musical aspirations, who encourages him to publish his work. Every day after dinner, Paterson walks the dog past a neighborhood bar where he stops for a beer, and in this bar is a wall dedicated to Paterson’s (the town) most famous residents, including poet William Carlos Williams.

As with many Jarmusch films, Paterson is not about the culmination of the story but about mood and meditation. There is a vignette quality to the progression of the plot, but with characters who are familiar to us, as seen through the eyes of a working-class poet. Paterson observes his passengers and listens to their conversations, fascinated and creatively energized by the temporary intimacy of public transit.

Indeed, the poetry of everyday events, locations and people is central to what makes Paterson excel in the quieter moments. Jarmusch is always observant of the inherently poetic. A chance encounter with a rapper (played by Method Man) working on verses to the beat of a washing machine is a wonderful scene, as when Paterson is reading poems by a young girl who also keeps a private journal.

One of Paterson’s poems examines the discovery that there are more than three dimensions, the fourth being time. Though a creature of habit, he is keen on detail and the way passage of time affects seemingly constant or stationary locations. The conversations he overhears on the bus are fascinating because they are present in this exact location. The bus has not changed three of its dimensions, but the fourth is always in flux. The bar is full of characters with stories that occur all over the city but coincide in this one location.

Though a charming film with love for its subject matter and respect for the audience’s intelligence (read: no cheap plot twists or unearned pathos), the glue that holds everything together is without a doubt Driver himself. Quiet, observant and contemplative while never aloof, Driver gives a performance so good it fools you with its naturalism. Jarmusch has found a tremendous muse in Driver, and Paterson finds both doing their best work in already extraordinary careers.


Playing this week

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213

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Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000

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