Jim Jarmusch’s particular brand of philosophical deadpan comedy probably should have gone out of style by now. However, since the guy was always an artist who seemed displaced in time, his movies continue to appeal to a select group of hipsters and weirdoes who enjoy the filmmaker’s ramblingly funny stabs at profundity. Jaramusch’s latest, ‘Paterson’, is about a full-time New Jersey bus driver and part-time poet, which may be the most Jim Jarmusch premise for a movie ever conceived.
It’s also an absolutely delightful achievement – funny, warm, smart and, most importantly, moving in ways the often distancing filmmaker typically can’t be bothered to attempt. It’s as close as Jarmusch makes to a crowd-pleaser, which means that his old fans will be elated, he’ll find a few new ones, and everyone else won’t even be aware that this movie exists.
The deceptively simple film follows the week in the life of the titular Paterson (Adam Driver), as he giggles at the conversations he hears on his bus, observes local oddities at his neighborhood watering hole, enjoys an eccentrically cozy home life with his girlfriend (Golshifteh Farahani), and writes poetry about all the experiences in between. That’s pretty much it and that’s all Jarmusch needs to weave his magic spell. The movie is essentially about the poetry of the mundane (like all of the director’s works, perhaps making this one of his most personal endeavors), noticing the oddly beautiful moments in life and learning how to reflect upon them and engage with them. It might sound pretentious, but the movie isn’t really. The world is so sweet and charming and well observed that meaning seems to flow naturally from its foundations (until an over-explained coda involving a tourist poet, but that’s thankfully not enough to spoil the subtle charms that came before).
Frederick Elmes’ cinematography glows in pastel hues, providing a vibrancy to Jarmusch’s leisurely constructed frames. The writing is funny yet movingly naturalistic. The performances are tremendous from professionals and non-actors alike. Adam Driver carries the film like the major talent he’s become, somehow coming off as both quietly reserved and tremendously expressive. (He’s an ideal Jarmusch lead in that way.) Even the poetry the character writes is wistfully poignant and perfect for the tale, which is a relief since so often fictional art treated as masterful in a film fails to live up to its on-screen praise.
‘Paterson’ is easily one of Jarmusch’s gentlest creations. Somehow, between the quiet pauses and mumbling dialogue emerges something almost inexplicably moving and graceful. It might not be the filmmaker’s finest hour in his career, but it serves as prime evidence as to why he’s one of the most uniquely personal filmmakers to ever emerge from America.