Everything is going to be ok. Jim Jarmusch‘s “Paterson” is here like lotion, like balm, to soothe your aching limbs, quell your clamoring mind and restore your tired spirit. An unfeasibly charming film full of little wisdoms and quiet comforts where we might expect to find provocations, its only deception is that it is so much richer than it seems at first glance. Most cinephiles are well acquainted with Jarmusch-ian minimalism, and the trick of reading more into his droll silences and laconic pauses than exists up on the screen. But, even aside from a difference in tone which favors sincerity over irony, and warmth over cleverness, this is something else: this is miniaturism. “Paterson” is a tiny little film, sharp in every detail, but minuscule, like a portrait on a grain of rice. And sometimes the smaller you go, the more colossal your impact, which means “Paterson” might just be Jim Jarmusch’s God Particle.
Centered on a perfectly modulated performance by Adam Driver (and as much as Driver is an enormous asset to the film, it also feels like the lead in this resolutely independent-spirited indie has come along at exactly the right moment for Kylo Ren), “Paterson” is both the name of the film’s location — the small New Jersey city — and the name of Driver’s character. It’s a coincidence that would be horribly twee if one iota more was made of it, but aside from a single conversation with a girl at his local bar, it just is, and is left alone. In our minds, of course, it takes root as one of a hundred little flourishes and details that are about doubling or twinning or twins — the film’s equivalent of a rhyme scheme.
Because Paterson is a bus driver, but also a poet. He’s chimingly in love with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani, in a performance made of joy), who is mercurial in all things except her steady reciprocal devotion to Paterson, her belief in his genius and her fondness for black and white — in movies, clothing, interior decor, cupcake icing and guitars. The nature of their relationship, which is almost old-fashioned in its courtliness, seems predicated on the simple desire to make everything as nice for one another as possible, which could seem smug but instead is aspirational and touching, right down to Paterson being the one to walk Laura’s dog Marvin every night, even though he and the bullish bulldog have a prickly, truculent relationship. This is the loveliest couple we’ve ever seen from Jarmusch (surely one of cinema’s great heterosexualists), mainly because of their complete lack of disdain for the mundane business of being in a couple.
And their lives are mundane and routine, despite all of Laura’s pie-in-the-sky (and occasionally pie-on-the-table) planning and encouragement. The film follows Paterson for seven days, and it’s almost like a crazy-mirror version of “Groundhog Day” in which every morning is a pleasure, an act of quiet satisfaction to get up at the same time, go to the same job, jot poems in the same notebook, make small talk with the same people, and go home to the same beloved wife to see what new interior design project or dubious recipe she will have embarked on today. Because if you understand the rhythms of your life, the basic iambic pentameter of your day-to-day existence, you can find not just solace, but inspiration in it. And it makes you appreciate those moments when the meter changes: you really experience the small deviations from the normal tick-tock of your days.
In that context, the wilfully low key “Paterson” can almost be seen as action-packed, since a lot does happen: a guitar gets bought, a bus breaks down, a lovelorn acquaintance of Paterson’s has a dramatically adverse reaction to a breakup he refuses to accept. Meanwhile, Paterson writes every day in his notebook (words that he voices while they appear in handwriting on screen — and somehow even that is not irritating!) and drinks a beer every night in the bar with Marvin huffily squatting outside under the neon blue sign.
We get to know a lot about the city of Paterson. The famous people who lived there — William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Lou Costello, Sam & Dave, Fetty Wap — are all mentioned, and most of them have a picture up on the wall behind Doc’s (Barry Shabaka Henley) bar. Oh, and if you’re wondering what happened to Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) after ” Moonrise Kingdom ” ended, well, I can happily confirm that they are still together and attending college in Paterson, NJ, where they ride the bus and talk knowledgeably about late-1800s Italian-American anarchist leader, and sometime Paterson resident, Gaetano Bresci.
The movie is about finding the beauty in everyday things (Ohio Blue Tip matches should do awfully well out of it) and the understated cinematography from Frederick Elmes certainly does that, complemented by a score from sound designer Drew Kunin that feels, with its hopeful electro drones and washes, like having your head cradled and your hair gently smoothed back from your temples. But it’s equally about the things that irritate us, a leaning mailbox, a pessimistic supervisor, a dog with a dark agenda, and how we can overcome or accept those setbacks. And maybe, how to even find the beauty in them, too — like emptying a pebble from your shoe and discovering it’s a diamond. Forgive the whimsy, you’ll understand when you see “Paterson” — possibly the smallest film ever to make poets of us all. [B+/A-]