Circles, brush strokes and squiggles. From curtains to cupboards, cupcakes to walls, even her own clothing – nothing is safe from Laura’s flamboyant black and white painting flourish.
Paterson (Adam Driver), lives with his girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), in a modest house on the outskirts of town, along with their pet bulldog, Marvin.
Laura’s warm, sightly eccentric personality and artistic expression seems to stem from deep within her. Perhaps it’s inherent from her Persian roots, but it’s certainly in contrast to Paterson’s quiet, unassuming nature that sees him quietly go about his daily business of driving the number 73 bus around – of all places – Paterson, New Jersey.
Paterson, like laura, is also a creative. A modern poet, inspired greatly by the works of fellow New Jersey poet, Willam Carlos Williams, and by the conversations of his passengers, he carefully captures his daily varied thoughts and musings in a ‘secret notebook’ that he brings with him to work each day.
Unlike Laura, who openly shares with Paterson her dreams of being the Cupcake Queen of Paterson, or of becoming a Country music star, Paterson’s poetry never sees the light of day despite Laura, his number one fan and support base, nagging him to share it with a wider audience.
Despite his writing often being dedicated to Laura, there is something innately private and personal about Paterson’s poetry, which in some ways seems to be more about the process and the moment of creation, than attaching any significant value to the end product.
Jim Jarmusch’s film is built upon a simple premise; a relatively unremarkable week in the couple’s life, based, as so many are, around the familiarity of routine, and notable only for the subtle, minor variants that occur within it.
At approximately 6.15 every morning Paterson awakens without recourse to an alarm clock, clips on his wrist watch, shares a brief intimate moment with Laura, eats an unremarkable breakfast, and walks to his job at the bus terminal.
Then follows a working shift, followed by an evening walk back to the house, which invariably will have taken on some new black and white-themed embellishment during the course of the day thanks to Laura and her relentless paintbrush. This is followed as always by a rather one-sided, enthusiastic conversation, with Laura regaling Paterson of whatever today’s creative progress has been and whatever constitutes the latest fad and focus of her dreams.
Paterson seems passive by nature. Happy? It’s actually hard to say. Perhaps a little emotionally detached, he is happy to allow Laura to take the lead in making the couple’s plans and to steer their overall direction.
Indeed, Paterson rarely takes the lead in much, unless we’re talking literally, when he takes ‘his’ sullen-faced pooch for an evening walk. Even then, more often than not it’s Marvin that ends up dictating both direction and pace. At least Paterson finally has the chance to redress some semblance of balance when he leaves the cantankerous canine outside and steps into the familiar low-key ambience of Shades bar for a solitary beer and maybe a chat with the owner and clientele.
It’s something that he’s ensured to implement into his nightly dog-walking routine, and really the only occasion in which Paterson seems to exert any sort of control over his daily life, or indeed seems truly at ease or happy with himself and his surroundings.
Jarmusch’s film is subtle. Very subtle.
A character-driven, observational piece in which occasional fluctuations in Paterson and Laura’s established routine are magnified somewhat, despite them amounting to very little in the grand scheme of things.
Even moments of actual drama, such as one of Shades Bar’s lovelorn regulars, Levitt, being driven to gun-wielding theatrics – are in many ways as much to do with routine and the every day, as any sort of contrived dramatic plot twist.
The ease with which Paterson disarms this potentially incendiary situation reminds us of a military past that is only hinted at, a past that may account for why he seems so disengaged from civilian life. Or is that to read too much into nothing?
The way in which Jarmusch’s film gently weaves its way through these apparently uninspiring days, helped along by a dreamlike almost meditative soundscape of synthesised pads and spoken poetry, allows us to fall deeper and deeper into Paterson, seduced by its somewhat bewitching spell.
A gently humorous slice-of-life drama and an ode to some of New Jersey’s favourite sons – comedian Lou Costello and the aforementioned William Carlos Williams – it will not be to the taste of those who lack patience or the attention-deficit-afflicted, but for those who value subtle, thoughtful cinema, I’d be surprised if Paterson doesn’t softly work its considerable charms upon you.