Paterson lives with his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and their grumpy bulldog Marvin in a small and modest house. Paterson’s life is organized by his daily routine: he eats Cheerios in a glass, he walks to work with his metal lunchbox containing a sandwich made by Laura; he works on his poetry in his bus driver’s seat at the depot; he drives his route and listens to passengers’ conversations; he adjusts the ever-tilting mailbox at home (a running joke that has a wonderfully funny payoff); he listens to Laura’s stories about her day as an ever-creative artist with new passions (learning guitar to become a country star, making cupcakes for the weekend’s farmer’s market, painting the house interior black-and-white patterns); and he takes Marvin on his nightly walk and has a beer at the local bar, soaking in the conversations of the patrons around him.
What makes the film special is that Paterson, as a quiet and reserved man, is truly fascinated by people, and the film highlights a lot of funny and touching moments of the Paterson locals, whose human interactions are interesting slices of life. There are the two construction workers on the bus trying to impress each other with stories of pretty girls flirting with them; a spunky little girl waiting for her mom and sharing her poem “Water Falls” with Paterson, written in her pink secret diary; a despondent young man at the bar trying to win back his uninterested ex-girlfriend; Paterson’s boss, an Indian man named Donny resigned to listing the many complaints of his family life and financial stresses (“My kid needs braces on her teeth, my car needs a new transmission job, my wife wants me to take her to Florida, but I’m behind on the mortgage payments . . .”), but waving away any sympathies with “It’s my life and my problems,” and the local bartender Doc, who plays chess against himself and celebrates Paterson’s history through putting up photos and news clippings of local Paterson legends, like Lou Costello and William Carlos Williams.
There is a motif of twins seen throughout the film. Laura expresses to Paterson that she dreamed that they had twins, and Paterson encounters sets of identical twins at the bar, on the bus, and on his way to work. It is an interesting recurring theme, that likely has deeper resonance than I can imagine for now.
Laura wants to be a country star (Laura: “Nashville, here I come!” Paterson: “Look out, Nashville.”) to realize her dream of being a creative artist, with her own distinct style (“Like Patsy Cline or Tammy Wynette, but my own thing”), and she encourages Paterson to share his poetry with the world, and to realize that he is a poet first, not only known as a bus driver. Paterson is hesitant, because he sees his work as private, and his own personal artistry. He looks up to William Carlos Williams, who lived in Paterson and wrote about it, but doesn’t see himself as following in the same legacy.
The film is beautifully shot by Frederick Elmes (Wild at Heart, Night on Earth, Coffee and Cigarettes), with a lot of scenes shot in a clear, open simplicity. One overhead shot of a dinner of cheddar and Brussel Sprouts pie is reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s staging of film scenes like picture books, while another shot of Marvin sitting in the doorway of a laundromat listening to a rapper (in a charming cameo by Method Man) working out a verse while doing his laundry has a funny and sweet quality to it. The editing by Affonso Goncalves (True Detective, Only Lovers Left Alive) is crisp, and there are great moments with Paterson listening to passengers’ conversation where he looks amused and interested in people’s stories, and it almost feels like he wants to join in on the conversation, but cannot because of professional boundaries. The editing in those sequences does make it feel more inviting to the viewer, both with the passengers’ talk and Paterson’s reactions.
Jim Jarmusch’s talent in filmmaking is in letting a scene breathe, and not putting in a lot of jump-edits or forced drama for climatic effect. His films are often quiet and funny, showing interesting aspects in everyday life, as seen in the taxicab encounters in Night on Earth, Bill Murray’s reunions with his ex-girlfriends to find the mother of his son in Broken Flowers, Forest Whitaker’s adherence to the ancient samurai code as an assassin in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, and the short film vignettes of diner scenes in Coffee and Cigarettes. He brought out touching and heartfelt performances from Driver and Farahani, who have great chemistry together as a charming and modest couple living a happy life together in Paterson. As Paterson writes, “Beauty is found in the smallest details.” It is truly a wonderful film, and one I highly recommend seeing.