The new film by Jim Jarmusch is a quiet look at the life of a writer (Adam Driver) getting through his ordinary days with a mix of passion and poetry. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
His name is Paterson, and he drives a bus in Paterson, N.J., covering a route that takes him over a bridge above Paterson Falls — the latter immortalized in William Carlos Williams’ epic poem, “Paterson,” which is set in a city with a long history.
“Paterson” is also the title of a moving new film by Jim Jarmusch, who lovingly embraces these curious, even mystical reflections between a likable if circumspect character (played by Adam Driver), a place and its cultural legacies. Over the course of the movie, a few other famous sons of Paterson (the town) will be name-checked: comedian Lou Costello, boxer Hurricane Carter and the anarchist Gaetano Bresci.
Like them, Driver’s Paterson (the only name he goes by) is also a creature of his hometown, though his connection to it — or to anything — is oddly tenuous. He’s like a visitor in his own skin, never quite grounded in any moment despite the depth of his love for his fanciful wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and his devotion to small rituals: the same breakfast cereal every morning, the same visit to a neighborhood bar for one beer every evening.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Paterson,’ with Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani. Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. 118 minutes. Rated R for language. Meridian.
It’s only when Paterson is writing poetry, which he carefully guards, in a blank notebook during stolen moments at work and home, that he seems complete. Well, at those times and whenever his finely tuned writer’s attention to life’s low-key signs and miracles is rewarded: listening to the telling conversations of passengers on his bus; noting the sometimes-cyclical nature of coincidences (what does it mean that he keeps seeing different sets of twin siblings?); startled by unexpected encounters with inspiration. Jarmusch reveals a simmering magic that exists everywhere if one is looking.
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Driver’s performance as an uncertain man getting through the day-to-day prosaic, quietly buoyed by passion and artistic commitment, is exquisite. Jarmusch and cinematographer Frederick Elmes, following Paterson on his daily walk to and from work, moving through alleys full of old, high walls of fading red brick, suggest a poet’s life that — like a city — can find its greatness in the long view of time.