That sentiment is one that Jim Jarmusch is clearly intent on reclaiming from the dead and giving back to the living. Following his sublime vampirical travelogue Only Lovers Left Alive, American indie cinema’s hippest cool cat lays his hat in the town of Paterson, N.J. and decides to call it home. In exploring the life of the serendipitously-named Paterson (Adam Driver), Jarmusch extols the virtues of calm and clear routine at a time when more and more of us clearly need such accessible serenity.
Paterson charts a week in the life of Driver’s bus driver (Such coincidental naming could get grating, but this is pretty much where it ends). Each day starts with the camera looking straight down on him and his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) waking up. The time they get up may change depending on the day of the week, but the mornings set the precedent for Paterson’s days. There’s a serenity to this couple’s life that can seem idealistic, but that ideal is so undemanding and relaxed that it’s impossible not to be roped into Jarmusch’s little slice of heaven. A routine is established as Paterson and Laura wake, have breakfast, and he leaves for work. Whilst waiting for his shift to begin, Paterson sits on his bus and writes reflective poems. Some writers believe their best work comes from what they know in their own lives, and Paterson is a testament to that philosophy (That being said, this is building on a legacy of other Paterson sons like William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg; there must be something in the waters there). Early on, Paterson’s voiceover reads an ode to the blue-tipped brand of matches that he and his wife buy. Like so many of his works, Jarmusch’s latest makes virtues of the slightest details. A brief glimpse of a framed picture of Paterson dressed in military uniform conveys a great deal of his past, while a despondent look or bark from his dog Marvin (A frequent scene-stealer played by Nellie, to whom the film is posthumously dedicated) gets his meaning across with clarity.
The town of Paterson is resolutely ordinary, but it is in this ordinariness that these characters live and thrive. Paterson feels at home here, and it’s not because of the similar name. He gets inspiration from the river and waterfall, from the passengers on his bus and the friends that he meets. Paterson and Laura’s life may not seem complex, but it’s more than enough for them, and it’s a joy for any audience watching to immerse themselves in this absence of conflict. Like Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! from earlier this year, this is a film that revels in the small pleasures. Once his shift ends, Paterson trades stories and loving smiles with Laura over dinner, walks Marvin and has a nightcap at the local bar, presided over by owner Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley). Once we see this routine get played out a couple of times, it becomes a joy to know that something similar will be shared the next day. Besides that, momentum derives from the little variations and grace notes that Jarmsuch’s script offers. Laura works through various hobbies, from baking to country music, while Paterson encounters new people and deals with new challenges, like a lovelorn bar patron or his bus breaking down.
There’s potential for all of this to go off the edge into twee, but it’s kept anchored by Jarmusch’s vision of a necessarily simple life. Paterson may be surrounded by intriguing types in a sweet little town, but the main man is an attentive sponge, soaking in all the life around him and using it as inspiration. The film’s pleasant, undemanding pace is undeniably Jarmuschian, but it takes its cue from Driver’s down-to-earth performance. This is a character we get to know in all those wonderfully clichéd ways we wish could get to know others. We eat with him, ride the bus with him and share a beer, and the conclusion is he’s very likeable company. For all the good things Paterson has in his life, perhaps the most thing we could envy is his temperament. He (and, by extension, the film) takes life one trip, one sip and one day at a time, and when the world seems to be accelerating furiously towards an unknown destination, Driver and Jarmusch’s brand of grounded calm is just what the doctor ordered. Paterson is a soothing slice of peace, full of quirks, thought and a great deal of heart. The New Jersey tourist board should be delighted.