There is something almost magical about the way each new day begins in Paterson. The film’s protagonist, also named Paterson, rolls over every morning to check the watch on his nightstand. Despite not owning an alarm clock, he begins his morning routine at the same time every day. As the film progresses, it’s clear that there is nothing extraordinary going on; he is just a man whose body is accustomed to a daily pattern. But it also becomes clear that the moment is not any less magical because of that. Paterson is a film that makes the most ordinary events seem magical.
Paterson (Adam Driver) is an observant bus driver from Paterson, New Jersey. His job offers him the opportunity to eavesdrop on conversations happening on the bus and to watch the activity on the street as he drives by. Inspired by poets like one-time-Paterson resident William Carlos Williams, Paterson also sees himself as a poet, taking time before work and during his lunch break to write his own poetry. His poetry is simple and observational; it speaks to the life he has and what he sees in his town. Paterson’s behavior teaches the audience how to watch the film as it progresses. Just as Paterson is drawn to the simple beauty of life in his hometown, the film is beautiful in its simplicity and tenderness. Every day plays out pretty much the same way, but the careful touch of expert director Jim Jarmusch makes this engaging rather than repetitive. The audience, like Paterson, is on the lookout for the tiny differences from day to day.
Jarmusch crafts every moment of the film as if it was the most important moment in the history of the world, as Paterson does, and the audience is led to accept the importance of these small, everyday occurrences. The new people on the bus offer new insights into the daily life of a Paterson resident. Chance meetings on the street as Paterson walks his dog seem to take on deeper meaning, as if they were fated to happen. The different embraces and kisses Paterson gives his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) as they wake up together every morning give each new day a new feeling.
The repetitive nature of the film allows Jarmusch to develop visual gags over the course of the movie. Their dog, Marvin, gets some of the funniest moments of the film, as Jarmusch cuts away for reaction shots from him. The humor is sweet, never at the expense of the characters or their grand aspirations, but more in looking at how funny life can be sometimes.
Much of the charm of the film comes from Driver and Farahani, who convincingly play a loving couple. Driver is tasked with speaking his poetry aloud as he writes it, a gimmick which could easily have become annoying or tedious, but works well thanks to Driver’s demeanor and his ability to seem as if he is struggling to pick each word perfectly. Farahani does well as Laura, playing her as both a loving wife and a woman with her own artistic aspirations. Driver and Farahani expertly convey the couple’s love and support for one another and how they are always interested in what the other has created that day.
Paterson is an incredibly sincere, loving look at the everyday life of people who do not seem to be special. It is a film that finds the significance in seemingly insignificant moments. It is a reminder that inspiration can come from anywhere. Sitting on a bench looking at a waterfall along with Paterson, it is easy to see what is so special about that place and, ultimately, what is so special about any place.