Arts & Culture

‘Paterson’ follows life and love of New Jersey bus driver

Currently screening at Avon, indie film chronicles day-to-day life, discovers beauty in small details

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 22, 2017

“Paterson” begins in the morning with the start of its titular character’s day. Paterson, played by Adam Driver, rolls over in bed and checks the time on his analog watch. White text spelling out “Monday” fades in slowly as Paterson gives his wife a kiss, eats Cheerios out of a glass cup, toys briefly with a small box of Ohio Blue Tip Matches and heads off to work.

These actions may sound mundane, but director Jim Jarmusch imbues “Paterson” with such honesty and tenderness that even the most inconsequential events are compelling.

The 14th feature film by the longtime indie director, “Paterson” was released in the United States Dec. 28, 2016 and is currently screening at Avon Cinema. The story takes place in Paterson, New Jersey and centers on the life of a full-time bus driver and part-time poet also named Paterson. Paterson lives with his wife Laura, an eccentric artist and aspiring musician played by Golshifteh Farahani, in a small house in the city. The film follows Paterson through one week of his life, chronicling the ups and downs of his job, relationships and financial struggles, as well as his ongoing pursuit of poetry.

Over the course of the film, the audience gains a sense of Paterson’s daily routine, from his regular drives down Route 23 to his nighttime walks to the nearby bar. Throughout the day, he makes time to jot down poems in his journal, or “Secret Notebook,” and Laura encourages him to publish them. Each day is a variation on the same pattern, and yet the movie never veers into monotony. Instead it highlights the beauty in day-to-day life via little details — a mailbox that never stands up straight, a red neon bar sign, sunlight falling in bright bands across a pillow.

Throughout the course of the film, as the audience adopts Paterson’s vantage point, these little details become more and more familiar. Objectively, the film progresses quite slowly, but the passage of time isn’t boring; rather, it feels as though the viewer is living life alongside Paterson, partaking sincerely in his personal joys and sorrows.

Many know Driver as Kylo Ren, the angst-filled antagonist of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Driver’s character in “Paterson” is much less flashy. Nonetheless, Driver demonstrates his range and pulls off the switch fantastically, depicting the young bus driver and poet with combined realism and sensitivity. Driver’s laugh is infectious and his portrayal of Paterson’s quiet emotional restraint is admirable. When tragedy strikes near the end of the film, Paterson’s unspoken sadness renders it all the more heartbreaking.

The rest of the cast, for the most part, mirrors Driver’s expertise. Barry Shabaka Henley portrays Doc, a chess-loving bartender with just the right amount of worldliness and compassion, while Masatoshi Nagase makes the most out of a brief appearance as a poet who offers Paterson some helpful literary advice. Farahani’s performance as Laura, meanwhile, is occasionally stiff but mostly charming; she delivers her lines with an innocent and lively goodwill that makes up in sweetness all it lacks in depth. Admittedly — and through no fault of Farahani’s — Laura’s character is somewhat two-dimensional, giving the actress little to work with; she mostly exists to serve as Paterson’s muse.

The film’s cinematography is charmingly simple. There are neither glamorous panoramas nor melodramatic close-ups, and camera movement barely occurs. The soundtrack consists mostly of background noise, filling each scene with an unobtrusive, believable atmosphere that emphasizes the many long pauses throughout the film.

Contrary to its intimate promotional poster, which features Driver and Farahani lying together in bed, “Paterson” isn’t a romance movie. But it is about love — a deeply founded love for people, poetry and the city of Paterson itself. This love is present in each scene and, moreover, it’s present in the details: from each affectionate interaction between Paterson and Laura to each line that Paterson composes in his “Secret Notebook.”

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