Paterson (Adam Driver) is not your typical movie protagonist, if only for the fact that he is so plain. His life is nothing special, and his days are spent so similarly that they eventually all blend together. Every morning he wakes up somewhere between 6 and 6:30 and goes to his job as a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey. He spends his free time at lunch meditating on a waterfall in a local park and writing love poems inspired by symbols he sees in daily life (rain, twins) and the quirky conversations he overhears while on the bus. In the early evening he returns home to his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), who seems to be pursuing a new artistic endeavor every day – one day she’s painting curtains that look like they’ve been designed by Yayoi Kusama, the next she’s baking and decorating cupcakes for a craft fair, and the day after that she’s teaching herself the guitar so she can become a country music star. Paterson and Laura live with their Marvin (credited as “Nellie” on IMDb), their charismatic bulldog, who Paterson walks every evening, always stopping off at the same pub to unwind for a few hours and occasionally helping the other regulars with their life issues.
“Paterson” is a very “Jarmusch” film – a slice-of-life picture about people who aren’t particularly special or gifted and the simple lives they lead with the slightest comedic touch. Jarmusch’s films are relatable because their characters are so unremarkable, and they bring us back to reality by reminding us that not everyone is doing something new and exciting as Instagram so often fools us into thinking (Paterson doesn’t even own a cell phone!). His characters are real people who aren’t beautiful, who may never move out of their small town, who may never make a dent on the world at large – and that’s okay. They’re happy with their lives as they are, and if they aren’t, they eventually get over it. It’s the simplicity of the film that helps us to see beyond all the surface details and remember what we’re always seemingly forgetting: that life doesn’t need to be perfect or grand to be good.
Jarmusch’s film is a beautiful musing on the importance of having and pursuing life dreams, and it is delivered charmingly. Adam Driver plays Paterson in an understated manner that one may mistake for indifference, but that perfectly fits the mood and style of the film. As Paterson walks the sunlit path to work each morning, he recites his poetry in his head and the words materialize on screen. The conversations between passengers on the bus are reminiscent of Jarmusch’s 1994 film Night on Earth, and reiterate the idea that everyone has problems, no matter how big or small, serious or petty. Jarmusch’s stylistic choices and subtlety of emotion make “Paterson”, which otherwise could have been a boring story, memorable and heartwarming.