Taken in broad strokes, “Paterson” doesn’t sound like much of a film. It follows a week in the life of a bus driver named Paterson, played by Adam Driver. He wakes up, goes on his shifts, writes the occasional line of poetry, then comes home. He takes his bulldog Marvin to the local bar, and follows the same routine the next day.
That’s about all that happens, but there’s much more to it than that description would say. As written and directed by independent auteur legend Jim Jarmusch — whose most recent film, 2014’s “Only Lovers Left Alive,” was a vampire film starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston — “Paterson” is a warm, hilarious ode to the working man and hidden artist. There was not a more loveable, optimistic film released last year.
Though the majority of the film follows Paterson on the job, from time to time it spotlights his eccentric artist wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) as she indulges in her many interests including being a country singer, painting shower curtains and baking cupcakes for a farmer’s market while simultaneously attempting to get Paterson to share his many poems with the world.
It’s a testament to Jarmusch’s fundamental empathetic writing, and Driver’s understated performance, that their relationship never comes off as one sided or unsupportive. One gets a sense of how these two opposite personalities managed to find the perfect matches in each other and how their artistic flourishes drive them.
Paterson’s writing takes place mostly in his basement and during his lunch breaks by a waterfall. The words appear on screen as Driver reads the poems (written by contemporary poet Ron Padgett) aloud and we can see the creative process ticking as he goes over a line repeatedly, finding the right images and sounds to use. We’re shown how Paterson takes inspiration from everything around him, from the passengers to the environment to something as simple as the matches they use to light their cigarettes.
Jarmusch, too, takes care in detailing the environment of the town he resides in, coincidentally named Paterson as well, sketching just the right amount to make us feel we’ve spent years with the characters in the bar. It’s these scenes that prove some of the most enjoyable to watch as the characters converse about the many famous people of Paterson, namely poet William Carlos Williams.
It stands to be repeated just how funny this film is. Most of the jokes unfold in the conversations observed on the bus, and they’re filled with the many small moments that make the whole film so wonderful. There are simply too many of these moments to pick just one as the best, though the payoff to a running gag involving a mailbox certainly makes its case.
Despite this, it never feels too drawn out. In fact, you may find yourself wanting to stay in this world a week longer. “Paterson” is full of humor and insight along with the warmth of human character and laid back performances cementing it as the most purely enjoyable film of 2016.