Paterson cycles through a week in the life of its titular protagonist, a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey (and yes, his real name is actually Paterson) who writes poetry inspired by his fellow-Patersonite idol William Carlos Williams in his spare time. His routine is fairly simple: he wakes up after six, does his bus route, eats lunch and jots down some verses while gazing at the Great Falls, then walks home putting the finishing touches on his latest creation in his mind. At home he is greeted by his lively Iranian wife, Laura, who loves to paint, design, and bake cupcakes using her favourite black-and-white colour combination. After dinner, Paterson walks his wife’s beloved bulldog, Marvin, to the local bar, where he downs some beer and chats with Doc the bartender and other barflys.
If you’re not willing to sit down and watch something that more or less repeats the same sequence of events (with minor variations) over and over again, then Paterson will not be your thing. I, however, greatly admired what Jarmusch set out to do here, allowing us to worship at the altar of simple mundanity and the hidden wonders that lie therein. These may be ordinary lives, but even in that ordinariness there is weariness and splendour, comedy and pathos that does not need to be spelled out for it to be seen. And I think Jarmusch really nailed the life of a creator who can observe the minutiae around them and transmute it into gemlike verse, and yet still remain curtained off from public attention. There’s a clear appreciation of those private souls who mine the world for its lyric essence and keep their work out from the sight of all eyes but theirs. It’s a reminder that some art is best kept within the closed covers of a notebook, not because it’s unworthy of praise, but because it holds a quality that cannot be articulated outside of the artist’s space of creation. And, of course, there are artists like this everywhere, including those we hardly give a second glance.
There are a few small things that bugged me, like Laura’s characterisation as a borderline caricature Manic Pixie Dream Girl—something played mostly for laughs, alas. Sometimes her presence rings true; other times, you wonder why Jarmusch wrote her the way he did. Then there’s the pivotal moment of destruction that we’re baited with, as though this is not supposed to be a film about major shocks to the system. First it’s foreshadowed, then it’s spoonfed, and to what end, I don’t really know. The best explanation is that the reason for its occurrence is purposely made ambiguous, though I kind of find that hard to buy when Paterson’s reaction after the fact is so pained.
In the end, though, the cause is not what matters: it’s the effect, and what it leads to. And the reason for Paterson’s revitalization is beautifully done. Many similarly small moments are (the little girl and her “Water Falls” poem instantly springs to mind), and when they add up to such a gorgeous, sonorous whole, you feel similarly revitalized, yourself.
P.S. Including Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward from Moonrise Kingdom was a genius move. My inner Wes Anderson fangirl squealed in delight.