Surely this must be the best of all possible worlds. In a modest bungalow fronted by an amiably drooping mailbox, there dwell a city bus operator (the aptly named Adam Driver), his wife Laura (Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani), and the real boss of the little family, their bulldog Marvin, played by the late canine non-actor Nellie, in her first and final role. The bus driver’s name, the city in which the family lives, and the title of the film are all the same, Paterson – the New Jersey hometown of such notables as poet Allen Ginsberg and boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.
Jarmusch’s setting, in its heightened sense of the mundane, reminds us unmistakably of the filmmaker’s vision of Cleveland, Ohio, in his 1984 breakthrough Stranger Than Paradise. In fact, Paterson, N.J. is more Cleveland than Cleveland itself.
The family is cut from the same cloth as John Lurie, Eszter Balint, and Richard Edson, the actors portraying the earlier film’s laconic, terminally hip characters. Paterson the driver does the same things every day of his life: shows up at the depot, drives his route, comes homes and shares his day with his wife, walks Marvin, and stops at the Shades Bar for an evening drink. Laura’s routine consists of cranking out whimsical baked goods for sale and creating home décor for the bungalow. Marvin mostly just grunts, and assiduously assaults the mailbox, to the chagrin of his master.
In short, the Paterson-ites are the same as everybody else, with a vengeance. We can’t help thinking that the bus driver’s family and their snug, rhythmic daily lives represent the greening of Jarmusch’s hipster outlook. That is, where musician-actor Lurie and his crew lived to make the Lower Manhattan club scene, Paterson and Laura’s nuclear unit is content to embrace the everyday humdrum schedule and keep it tight, off the beaten track in one of the most self-consciously nondescript locales in the USA. In Paterson everyone gets along with each other, just like on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse or Sesame Street.
Actors Driver (Silence) and Farahani (The Patience Stone) manage to embody Jarmusch’s middle-aged-cool sensibility with minimum fuss. She paints and dreams, he drives his bus. No one has a smart phone. There’s time for homage to anarchist Gaetano Bresci and a chat with a visiting Japanese poet. All is well in Jarmuschland. The director who gave us Broken Flowers, Dead Man, and Mystery Train is trying to show us that less is more. He’s right, of course.