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Paterson Review: Jim Jarmusch Delivers One of 2016's Best Movies

By Brian Gallagher — November 17th, 2016

Movies can certainly be therapeutic, giving fans release from the grind of their daily lives, as they sit back and watch cities explode or spandex-clad heroes save literally the entire world. Over the past week... and the past year, really, our world has started overflowing with hyperbolic rhetoric, whether it be focused on the Presidential election or a myriad of other issues. It is the very nature of the world today that makes a movie like celebrated filmmaker Jim Jarmusch's Paterson feel like a warm blanket for the soul, giving viewers two hours chocked full of an ordinary life of one man, a bus driver from New Jersey.

The title Paterson not only refers to the eponymous title character, played by Adam Driver, but also the town of Paterson, New Jersey where he was born, raised, and still lives. Every day, he wakes up next to his beautiful and quirky wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), makes himself a cup of cereal and walks a few blocks from his modest home to the bus depot. Most days, he's greeted by a perpetually downtrodden colleague Donny (Rizwan Manji) before he takes his bus out for the day. He listens to any number of random conversations during his route, taking his lunch break at a park overlooking a waterfall, where he works on his poetry. He finishes his route and walks his short walk back home at the end of the day. For some strange reason, his mailbox is always crooked when he gets home, before he enters his modest home and catches up with his wife.

At times, after work, he can be found in his basement, continuing to work on his poetry, which he refuses to show to anyone else, except for his loving wife, who continually insists that he share his gift for poetry with the world. After dinner, he takes his lovable bulldog Marvin for a walk, down to a local bar, where he leaves the dog tied up to a pipe, while he enjoys a beer inside. At this modest watering hole, he makes conversation with the bar owner Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley) and, at times, an on-and-off couple, Marie (Chasten Harmon) and Everett (William Jackson Harper). This is Paterson's life, day in and day out. It's not filled with or fueled by conflict, by any means at all. In fact, Paterson's innate, natural aversion to conflict is what makes him such a compelling character.

Leave it to writer-director Jim Jarmusch, who has explored everything from romantic (non-sparkly) vampires (Only Lovers Left Alive) to a profound assassin (Ghost Dog: Way Of the Samurai), to deliver a film so gorgeous in its simplicity. The film takes place over one entire week, exploring the beauty and the poetic nature of everyday life, which can unfold exactly how you might expect, or can also throw you for a curveball or two. While Paterson's mundane routine isn't necessarily the most exciting or dynamic material you'll see on the big screen, you'd be hard-pressed to find characters as compelling, or quirky or unique as you'll see in Paterson, New Jersey, which, as you'll learn in this film, has produced a number of notable figures, such as Lou Costello of Abbot and Costello fame, to Jimmy Vivino, the bandleader for TBS' late-night show Conan.

While Paterson's life is largely the same, day in and day out, his wife Laura's is always in a constantly-changing state of artistic flux. She has a number of dreams she's always following, with one memorable scene showing Laura turning on the charm to convince her husband to spend a few hundred dollars on a guitar, with a DVD to teach her how to play. What's most interesting about this story is that there really is no "central conflict," so to speak. Paterson is a character who is surrounded by all sorts of conflicts, from his co-worker Donny to the on-and-off relationship between Marie and Everett, and even Paterson's "adversarial" conflict with the mailbox that is somehow crooked every time he goes home, but none are his conflicts to solve, so to speak. While most movies follow the main character(s) trying to solve some sort of main conflict, Paterson eschews those conventions, substituting them with a slice of idyllic life in a New Jersey town and a character who leads a simple life he is completely content with, while still pursuing his own artistic pursuits. Paterson will certainly speak to anyone who has worked that nine-to-five job day in and day out, but who also find time within those other 16 hours a day to create their own art. This beautiful film premiered at Cannes this summer, before hitting the festival circuit and arriving at AFI Fest in Los Angeles. It will debut in a limited theatrical release on December 28.