Everything really comes together in this film, which really has to be Jarmusch’s best in a very long time. It’s the slow methodical story of a man named Paterson who drives a bus in Paterson, New Jersey, and writes poetry inspired by William Carlos William’s epic poem, Paterson. Just from that, you could easily get the vibe that it’s going to be some kind of twee indie fluff film, but it’s really not. Adam Driver is wonderful in the lead, giving a performance that is both his most interior and his best to date. Golshifteh Farahani, an actress I encountered here for the first time, is an absolute delight as Paterson’s girlfriend; she represents a surprising thread of humor that runs through the movie and, in my opinion, really effectively undercuts the seriousness of the poetry and the philosophizing about art that makes up a good bit of the story. This movie really could have been ponderous and self-serious in a bad way, but the wry, often sweet humor keeps the movie from becoming too pretentious for its own good. Not to say that the film doesn’t want to explore the beauty of poetry in a really interesting visual way; I like the sequences where we encounter Paterson’s poetry, usually via voice-over while a collage of disparate images plays on the screen. Jarmusch is going for art here and he nails it, in my opinion. But this isn’t just an art film just as it’s also not just a comedy; it really is a film about these characters – even the side characters really come to life, though it is those two central characters that the film spends most of the time with and they feel absolutely real and unforced. Though I should say, I suppose, three central characters; the pleasures of this movie are definitely enhanced by the performance of Nellie as Marvin, an unflappable, placid bulldog. No spoilers, but you can relax; Marvin makes it through the film unharmed, but I do have to give a special RIP to Nellie, the dog actress, who passed away not long after completion of the film. It’s maybe not a role that requires a lot of heavy lifting, but she’s delightful. I really liked the minimalism of the film and the way it kind of backed into everything it ended up being. It’s a comedy of sorts, but there are few overt jokes; it’s a character/relationship study that gets at the depths of its characters by looking at their superficial routines; it’s a treatise on art and life based around a guy who would never do a treatise on art and life. There’s something really wonderful about the way Jarmusch refuses to become explicit about what he’s really saying here. It’s particularly clever that he does have a scene where a character finally kind of articulates the ideas of the film, but Jarmusch puts all those lines in the mouth of Masatoshi Nagase, an actor who gives a really fine performance in his single scene, but who has a near impenetrable accent. Even when the dialogue is on the nose, Jarmusch wants to make you work at it. And Paterson is a wonder; it’s worth every moment you spend with it. 4 stars.
tl;dr – brilliantly acted, thoughtful, wryly comic film explores ideas of beauty, art, literature and everyday life with warmth and cleverness; an absolute delight. 4 stars.