Paterson is a movie that finds the sublime in the ordinary

Every morning, Paterson (Adam Driver) wakes up in the arms of his wife Laura (Golshifeth Farahani) between 6:15 and 6:30. He has his Cheerios and then walks to work. He drives around a bus in the city of Paterson, listening to the people around him. When he gets a chance, he writes poetry in a notebook that he always carries around. He goes home for dinner with his wife. He then takes their dog Marvin out for a walk and stops in at a bar on the way, where he drinks a single beer.

Then he does it again the next day.

And that’s Paterson.

It’s by any measure a slight film in terms of its plot. This is a world where if there is any conflict, it simmers so low and so below the surface as to seem nonexistent. It’s a film that so much reflects the real world in that week to week and day to day, not a whole lot really happens. We live, we have a few experiences (mostly the same every day), we go through our routines, we try to make sense of it all.

What’s so lovely about Paterson is that not only does it understand that, but it loves that. It loves the people who live that day-to-day existence and it finds the beauty inside that existence. It knows there is art in the way we live, Paterson wants to peel it back and find what it means.

This is a film of poetry. Not just because poetry plays a key role, but that doesn’t hurt. In fact, I must stop to praise the way this film uses poetry because it’s truly extraordinary. One of the most dangerous things to do in any sort of storytelling is to create an artist and tell us how good they are and then show us their work. Oftentimes, the showing of the art can never live up to what we’ve been told. The musician isn’t as talented, the painter not as extraordinary, the author not so bright.

But Paterson does two key things. One is that it presents art and poetry in its process, we see revisions and thought and attempt. Driver reads each poem at the pace he thinks through it, we see the creative wheels turn. The other, perhaps more importantly, is that the poetry is actually good. I certainly would not call myself an expert, but the words scan nicely and Paterson seems to have a quiet observational beauty to what he says.

But it isn’t just the actual poetry in the film, but the poetic composition of the film itself. Director/writer Jim Jarmusch has long been a filmmaker who thrives in the quiet and the contemplative, but none of his work ever quite been so quiet and contemplative, so thoughtful in the way it was put together. The images Paterson takes in of everyday processed through his eyes (and ours) get pulled together to form something beautiful, Jarmusch has such affection for Paterson and the way he views the world that it bleeds into every frame, making sure the audience can see the sublime in the simple.

It’s what he hears in his world, the people he sees, and the way it’s all put together with a pulsing score underneath. So much of Paterson is about the way our lead pays attention to the world around him, particularly highlighted in the scenes on the bus Paterson drives. These are incredibly Jarmusch, conversation between people about anything and everything, full of very specific knowledge. Young Anarchists (reuniting the two leads from Moonrise Kingdom, fun fact) who think they’re the first to find philosophy, two men who know they probably shouldn’t let the women getting off the bus overhear what they’re saying.

Of course, all that conversation and attention paid is from a really well-done script. It’s often hard to speculate how much script work helps a movie, but Paterson’s undeniable fact is how well put together its script is. It’s a series of images and recurring motifs and ideas that are all given set-up and all given near perfect pay-off. As small and quiet as this is, it’s also immensely satisfying, every little thing given a moment to mean something. It also possibly has one of the best joke set-ups and executions I’ve seen this year, it’s worth seeing the movie just for that.

I’ve used affection and love a lot in this review, and that extends to the characters in this movie, who are wonderful as they exist in the script, but who are made all the better by the actors playing them.

If you aren’t already at the altar of Adam Driver, you should be after this movie. Paterson is a masterclass in how an actor can do so much with so little. It’s the slightest changes in expression, the way he turns his head, the way he holds back just a second before praising something that says everything. He gives all the details of performance just right, and makes sure that Paterson always feels like his little quirks are real, never part of a cinematic performance or a screed. He doesn’t have a cell phone sure, but you believe that he really just doesn’t think he needs it, not that he’s making some big stand.

The other wonderful part of this movie is Laura, his wife. Golshifteh Farahani is absolutely new to me, but she does some things here that plenty of other actors have failed to do. She plays a character constantly in flux, constantly changing her mind, almost incapable of making a decision. Yet she makes it all feel natural, makes it all feel like a real person and not some Manic Pixie blah blah. She conveys the affection Jarmusch has, not any aspersions an audience may cast.

These people and performances are so important to Paterson because loving these people is what the film ultimately asks of you. Yes, it’s about art, and being an artist in the everyday. Which I (in my own delusion) certainly relate to, figuring out how to be an artist within the normal and repetitive 9-to-5 existence. But through that, it’s about the beauty of it. The beauty of the little things, of the routing and the everyday. Of the love that people find in understanding each other, not in the sweeping romance. Of the best part of your day being the same thing you do every day. It’s asking you to love people for being human, and there’s few better things that art can ask of you.

Grade: A

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