The endeavor to review, recommend, or even describe a movie like Paterson seems destined to degrade into one of the laziest things you can say in film criticism: “You’ve just gotta see it!” Surely the phrase has met your ears by way of a friend singing the praises of a recent viewing too visceral, rhythmic, or downright strange to effectively put into words. I can’t excuse myself from this review’s inevitable descent into the aforementioned cardinal sin on any of these grounds; Paterson operates as cerebrally as it does emotionally, walks a pace slow and naturalistic, and wears its normalness like a badge of honor. No, my appraisal of Jim Jarmusch’s latest is so necessarily bound for this embarrassment of syntactical sloth because seeing Paterson is essentially what Paterson is about.
Paterson’s title character (Adam Driver)—one of its two title characters, anyway—finds poetry in matchboxes, romance, and earworms. His day job as a bus driver affords him the symphony of passengers’ conversations; his nights at the dive bar allow for local history lessons and a front row seat for the heights of everyday human drama, aided in escalation by alcohol and heartbreak. At home, he’s forever the active listener to his live-in love Laura’s (Golshifteh Farahani) exultation about painting, baking, and learning guitar. In every facet of his life driving, drinking, and dog-walking around his namesake hometown, Paterson is content to watch… and, you can bet, to jot some thoughts down later, never to be read by a second set of eyes.
Really, Paterson—a harmony of shaggy humanity and subdued superheroism that befits Driver better than any role he’s played to date—is the perfect complement to Jarmusch. While Driver’s character mines the people, places, and things in his day-to-day for lyrical poetry, Jarmusch mines them for visual poetry. Paterson chuckles over a pair of young passengers’ gleeful discussion about creative Halloween costumes while Jarmusch delights in their tiny hanging legs’ evasion of the bus floor. The energy and affection with which the director embraces the mundane turns a seven-day saunter through New Jersey’s sleepiest suburb into a timeless odyssey through a world whose every corner sings with color and personality.
To simply look at and listen to everything Jarmusch has strewn about Paterson is to validate its story—that of the town and the man alike. Such is to validate Jarmusch’s drive to tell the story and to your own will to engage with it in the first place. And from here comes the film’s key question: If it’s Paterson’s eyes and ears that turn his world into poetry (and yours that render Jarmusch’s the very same), then does art wanting for an audience keep its creator from claiming the title of artist?
Therein lies this review’s inexorable submission to that regrettable directive. Paterson is a movie so indebted to the necessity, futility, synthesis, isolation, validation, subversion, entertainment, and art of watching the world, that I feel reluctant to tell you anything but to give it a look. Then again, it’s a movie just as beholden to the importance of thinking, feeling, talking, creating, writing, and being. So I guess that’s how I’m able to justify these 500-odd words to follow, “You’ve just gotta see it!” Of course, there’s more to it than that. Yes, you’ve gotta see it, whether “it” be Paterson, Paterson, or the world beyond. But you’ve also gotta think about it, talk about it, write about it. Simply because. You’ve just gotta.
Rating: 4.5 burritos out of 5
Image: Amazon Studios/Bleecker Street
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor of Nerdist. Find him on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.