Paterson Is A Splendidly Gentle Tribute To Everyday People

“Everybody’s got a story” sounds like the kind of corny thing you might find inscribed on a wooden book trinket in a Cracker Barrell, but honestly, it is the truth isn’t it? Everybody’s living their own individual lives, going about their business as they try to do the best they can. Sometimes their stories have triumphs, sometimes they have grand defeats while most days they just have days filled with normalcy as one page of their flips to the next. And when we all manage to interact, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in more overt ways, our individual stories manage to briefly intersect and impact each other.

That’s the basic concept that forms the beating heart of Paterson, a new Jim Jarmusch motion picture that’s simply about the straightforward idea of following a week in the life of a bus driver named Paterson (Adam Driver) going about his business in Paterson. New Jersey as he works at his job, lives at home with his girlfriend and bounces off the various residents of his hometown that he meets while on his job and in his daily visits to a local tavern. No larger personal event (like a life-threatening disease or imminent foreclosure on his home) coats the story, it’s just about Paterson and his existence and the moments where he manages to be a part of other people’s lives.

It’s so nice that Jim Jarmusch’s screenplay opts for just a slice-of-life movie instead of opting for larger forms of drama that could have undercut the unique naturalism of this tale. Of course, it’s helpful to this specific story that Jim Jarmusch very much carries a strong gift for writing natural-sounding dialogue that’s a lot of fun to listen to and, in a smart movie, he allows for various different types of people and their unique personas to enter the story. For instance, some of the individuals that Paterson overhears talking on the bus include romantically challenged blue-collar workers and teenage anarchists. This means the dialogue-heavy screenplay doesn’t risk falling into the trap of coming off as repetitive since the myriad of people Paterson and the audience encounter are so wildly different from one and other.

The various actors portraying the denizens of this New Jersey town deserve just as much praise as Jarmusch’s writing of course, given how well they inhabit the various personalities glimpsed at in this story with a natural charm that makes the numerous human beings we run into feel like what they should, real human beings with their own complex lives that Paterson is briefly popping into. We get to see people of all sorts of various ages, appearances and differing occupations, yet the strong writing and acting are able to succeed in making them feel like fully-formed people instead of the overly peculiar stereotypes they could have been.

Noteworthy acting and directing extends to the lead character as well, who’s played by Adam Driver in his first time playing the lead role in a movie that isn’t the forgotten 2014 thriller(?) Hungry Hearts. Driver’s been a noteworthy actor in supporting gigs for a while now, whether it’s in his memorable “OUTER! SPACE!” bit in Inside Llewyn Davis, a helpful scientist in Midnight Special and, of course, a truly great movie baddie in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Now, Driver proves himself more than capable of carrying a move in a leading man capacity by proving his chops and then some in an absolutely fantastic performance that calls for some particularly skillful subtlety and nuance that Diver just nails and then some.

He carries with him in his performance a kind of likable subdued presence that the lead character of this movie was going to need to work at all properly as a guide of sorts for the audience through the various unique personalities inhabiting Paterson, New Jersey. You can easily see in Driver’s performance why his various co-workers or the inhabitants at the bar he frequents would take a shine to this character, an impressive feat considering Driver also maintains the clear personality trait Paterson carries above all else: a timid quiet demeanor. I’m not even if Paterson has the capability of yelling, the guy is so soft-spoken. Keeping both the likable affable nature of Paterson and his tranquil demeanor juggling in the air at the same time like that is a tall order but one that Adam Driver has no trouble accomplishing.

Driver’s also the one front and center in Paterson’s sole deviations into more stylized territory, which come in the form of Driver’s voice-over reading aloud poetry Paterson is writing with on-screen text of what the character is jotting down accompanying said voice-over. Despite being definitely a departure from the rest of the film, these sporadic digressions manage to still work in the context of the film mostly because the actions depicted on-screen still come off as restrained (after all, all Paterson himself is doing is writing words down, the voice-overs are basically him reading it aloud in his head) and they’re executed in a way that fits in with the gentle spirit of the movie, particularly the extremely lovely score presented in these heightened moments of Paterson working on his poetry. Those scenes of him writing serve as a strong encapsulation of the gentle and subtly beautiful vibe that Paterson works with to such memorable results. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Paterson and his girlfriend have an absolutely adorable bulldog running around in various scenes!