There’s an innate difficulty in explaining a Jim Jarmusch movie to someone who’s never seen one. They exist in this kind of augmented normalcy, absent the twee-friendly symmetry of Wes Anderson or the straight up surrealism of David Lynch. They’re extra-normal, the a subtle exaggeration that’s relegated into the margins, eventually becoming more and more perceptible, but only after showing up in scene after scene.
That being the case, if you’re a Jarmusch fan, you’ll absolutely love Paterson, his newest slice-of-life tale. Set in Paterson, New Jersey, it stars Adam Driver as a bus driver who’s also named Paterson. True to his own style, Jarmusch never makes this into an actual punchline, but rather a constructed narrative coincidence that gets acknowledged in passing by a handful of characters in a few passing moments.
As an aspiring poet, the film’s broken up by bits of Paterson’s writings, told via narration, usually accompanied by scrawled bits of words across random corners of the frame. His first, titled Love Poem, starts off the film, and goes into great detail about the kinds of matches he and his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) prefer to keep on hand. It’s startlingly abrupt at first, but as it gets repeated throughout, you start to see the beauty in not just the words, but the spaces and silences between them.
Such is the appeal of Paterson, a film that starts on a Monday (complete with title card), and systematically going through his work week as a bus driver. Five times throughout the film, we watch as he gets up, eats breakfast, goes to work, drives the bus, comes home, straightens the mailbox, walks the dog, grabs a drink, goes home. It’s curiously mundane, but inadvertently reveals bits of profundity so slight you wonder if they were planned out in advance, or they just ended up being caught on film.
It’s in this kind of extra normalcy that Driver really gets to thrive as an actor, playing an unassuming everyman with the soul of a poet hiding in plain sight. He’s charismatic without being conspicuous, and as approachable as he seems aloof, and the perfect actor to carry a movie that shrugs off the normalcy of alienation while celebrating the fragile mundanity of the creative spirit.
In many ways it’s the definitive Jarmusch film, one that exists both as a loving ode to the subtleties of everyday life, and at the same time, is simply a collection of scenes captured by his camera.
Paterson is now playing in select cities, with additional cities opening throughout the month.