Review by Louise Keller
Here is a film that is simple but not simplistic. Its themes are ordinary yet unexpected. Nothing much happens, yet there is so much going on. Poetry, cup cakes and an English bulldog are some of the unlikely ingredients of Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson whose existential themes weave an indelible, rich tapestry. The delights of the ordinary are placed under the spotlight and the observations that follow are detailed and fascinating. Jarmusch entices us into the world of an ordinary man who lives a routine life. But there is much more going on beneath the surface.
Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver whose life follows a pattern. He wakes beside his sleeping wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), checks his watch, eats Cheerios for breakfast, carries his metal lunchbox to work and listens to the chatter of passengers in his bus. When he comes home, he straightens the crooked letterbox, takes their English bulldog Marvin for a walk and has a beer at the local pub. He also writes poetry – love poems that canvas things like the box of matches in his kitchen, dimensions and molecules. Laura is keen for him to publish his poems but we get the feeling that these are his private internal world, kept safe in his secret notebook. This is the world in which we become most interested.
By contrast, Laura experiments. She yearns to start a cupcake business, but also dreams of being a country singer. Her world is black and white. She paints with a strong visual style – the curtains, the walls, the doors, her clothes, the shower curtain, the dog’s collar. Everything is painted in black and white – stripes, circles and geometric patterns. She also has vivid dreams – about riding elephants in Persia and having twins, after which Paterson notices twins everywhere.
There are other characters that figure in Paterson’s reality. There is Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley), the bar owner who plays chess against himself; a couple in the complicated process of uncoupling; his woe-is-me boss; the rapper at the Laundromat; the young girl who writes poetry about water falling…
Driver’s expressionless demeanour makes its own statement and he perfectly embodies the orderly man whose external life provides the inspiration for his all-important internal life. Farahani is a delight as the kooky, artistic and passionate woman whose external expressions contrast Paterson’s.
The skill of Jarmusch’s film is the way he, as the puppet draws us into Paterson’s world, making us care about him and the people around him. As for Marvin, the dog with the priceless expression, he plays an integral role. The film is quirky, charming, funny and poignant as we walk in Paterson’s shadow. It’s a delight.