Jim Jarmusch always works style over structure; however that doesn’t mean style over substance. In Paterson, all we get is substance.
Adam Driver plays Paterson, a bus driver living in Paterson, whose bus route runs Paterson Street. He’s also a private poet – private because despite the support his dutiful, sunny wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) gives him, he shows no ambition towards publicity or fame.
He writes about the mundane: his cigarettes, his room. He picks up pieces of conversation from his passengers. He holds conversation with a little girl – herself already an aspiring poet – as he leaves work. He had a short career in the military in what sometimes feels like a past life all but buried. If it seems like I’m just describing someone’s existence, it’s because I am. The structure is not three-act, it’s seven: a week in Paterson’s life, and each new day comes with a title card and a kind of reset: Paterson in bed with Laura.
The two events that could pass for bona fide plot points come and go as easily as all the other non-plot point events.
Much has been made about Adam Driver’s performance. In his lead performances, he’s known for playing a particular kind of anxious – one either weighed down by sexual trouble or the darkside, and sadly, for whatever reason, he seems to struggle. It’s in his supporting roles; his turns in Midnight Special, Inside Llewyn Davis, or even Girls for that matter, that are what make him the up and comer to watch. Here, he brings some of his supporting character magic to the lead. Probably because, for all intents and purposes, it’s as though this film’s centered on its supporting character – or what would pass as a supporting character in a more mainstream film; the all-wise yet young friend of a friend that doles out advice in that corner of that party before going off with his inexplicably warm, beautiful wife to a life we don’t much wonder about.
Jarmusch builds Paterson in a way that causes it to manifest itself in your mind the way Paterson’s poetry does: despite giving us only the mundane, we come away with something greater.
All that said, a word of warning: this is very much a festival film. If you mostly fill your hard drive with superhero movies or Transformers – the Nickelback of movie series – and you go to see this, you gamble on your patience and your ability to relate to someone else’s everyday life.