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Mundane beauty

In everyday routine, ‘Paterson’ finds poetry

Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani in “Paterson”

Director Jim Jarmusch helped define the ‘80s American independent film movement with iconic works like “Stranger than Paradise,” “Down By Law,” and “Mystery Train”—cinema possessed of literary, Euro-arthouse influences while being distinctly, excitingly ours. 

Alongside famous contemporaries like Steven Soderbergh, Spike Lee, and the Coen brothers, Jarmusch became a formidable answer to the dominance of genre-obsessed Hollywood blockbusters as the ostentatious ‘80s turned into the tacky ‘90s. He’s a filmmaker for punk cineastes, a poet writing with light on celluloid instead of pen on paper. 

The rhythms, rhymes and dualities of film and poetry gracefully intersect in Jarmusch’s latest, “Paterson.”

Taking place over seven chapter-like days, we meet Paterson (Adam Driver) a poet and municipal bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, home to the grandfather of modern American poetry, William Carlos Williams. 

Paterson’s seemingly mundane days are suffused with hidden observation. He wakes up every morning with his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). He puts on coffee, walks to work in city blues, lunchbox in hand. He imbibes the same industrial streets and the people, writing on his lunch break by the urban oasis of the Passaic Falls—finding lyricism in the seeming banality of a box of Blue Tip matches, or the eavesdropped conversations of his bus passengers. 

At night, after dutifully returning home to hear about Laura’s day, he walks their grumbling English bulldog to a dive bar where he enjoys the quirks of unpretentious society before starting all over again.

Every day he fills his notebook further, fueled by the minute variations in his ubiquitous routine. Those moments define the individuality of his perception, which he turns into art. 

“Paterson” suggests that, of his ‘80s counterparts, Jarmusch is the one who has changed the least as an artist. Which isn’t to say he hasn’t grown as a filmmaker—he has, and his cinematic and narrative sensibilities remain masterful—but he’s been chasing the same muse since “Stranger Than Paradise”: the poetry hidden beneath the banality of everyday life. 

There’s a playful tenor to “Paterson” that leavens the inherent pretensions that come with making a film about poetry. That playfulness extends to the repetitive beats that form the film’s pleasing rhythms—the twins; weird little hat tips to the city and other films; a running joke about his bus exploding.

The poetry itself, penned by Tulsa native and White Dove Review founder Ron Padgett, is simple and quirky, containing love-struck observations that appear on screen, narrated in Driver’s halting delivery as each thought is born to paper. The intoxicating verses blend with Paterson himself, a kind of stoic space case, with one foot in the real world and the other in his whimsical thoughts. Driver is a natural here, giving a highly internalized performance that speaks volumes about his character with a mere look or simple line delivery.    

“Paterson” finds a place in your memory at the least, and takes up permanent residence in your psyche at best. And just like when the credits roll on any Jarmusch movie, I can’t wait to see what he does next.

For more from Joe, read his selection of movies for misanthropes on Valentine’s Day.