The world is filled with creatures of habit. These are the people whose commute can be timed to the second, whose regular order at the cafe could be set down without even glancing at a menu, who have certain colours that they wear and do not stray from them. From a distance, these creature of habit might seem to be limited by their routines; confined by their comforts.
A closer look though reveals that there are hidden moments of grace in their comforts…one only need the ability to identify these moments…or better yet, document them with love.
PATERSON, set in Paterson, is about Paterson (Adam Driver), a young man who drives a bus every day. His sleepy New Jersey town has had its moments in the sun over the years – Lou Costello was born there, William Carlos Williams wrote some glorious poetry there – but like many blue-collar towns, it’s pretty humdrum. Still, Paterson makes the best of it.
He gets up every day, heads to his job in public transportation, comes home to his adoring wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), takes their bulldog Arthur for a walk, and has a nightly beer at the bar.
In amongst all of this, Paterson writes poetry. Sometimes he crafts his phrases from the cockpit seat of his bus before his days begin, sometimes after his shift in the shadow of the great falls of The Passaic River. His words are charming, romantic, optimistic, and observational. He expounds on everything from the various dimensions of the universe as we know it, to the label on a box of matches. Every verse is kept close at-hand in a non-distinct notebook…never published, never shown.
Laura, obsessed with all things black and white, spends her days being creative. She redecorates their home, bakes, paints, learns to play guitar, and cooks all sorts of crazy creations. She is deeply in love with her husband and stokes his romantic soul with recounts of her curious dreams and encouragement to publish the poems he writes.
This movie is the story of their simple life, and the tenderness contained therein.
The beautiful thing about PATERSON is watching our hero and Laura find delights in the everyday. Paterson watches and listens; engaged by what specifically affects him, and what randomly just happens to be happening around him. Time after time, we watch a corner of his broad mouth draw upward with a satisfied smile. The cause of these happy grins? Water running under a bridge…the sight of identical twins…the conversations of passengers on his bus. He takes happiness from the world as it is, and never as he wants it to be.
All of that happiness and reverie gets funnelled into his poems; these beautiful paper boats that he carefully folds without the courage to actually set them out on the waters of the world.
Laura, meanwhile, is only too eager to cast her figurative boats to sea. Her interests and creations are all about making her little world more beautiful and sharing that beauty with those around her. Amusingly, her creations aren’t always quite right, but one could never look into the face of such creative force and tell it not to create.
And that’s okay, because for every brussel sprouts pie, there’s a black and white cupcake.
By bringing us into the lives of these people, PATERSON offers its audience something idyllic. It reminds us that the smallest things can lift the soul, and the simplest act of misbehaviour can be considered a soul-shaking crisis.
I consider myself the sort who takes joy in the everyday, but to this end, Paterson and Laura make me feel like I’m letting so much pass me by. At what point am I enjoying life to document it instead of simply enjoying it?
While PATERSON is ultimately tender and (yes) poetic, one does need to ask what role it serves in the current cinematic landscape. It’s the sort of film where “not much happens”, and we are asked to consider the beauty and tenderness of low-key workaday lives. Driver goes day-to-day with a sweet sadness in his eyes, and a warmth in his words…but there’s little about that sadness and warmth that we cannot find right outside our own front door. While I haven’t seen this story before, I feel like I’ve seen this story before.
The film is a slow burn, with subtle sweetness…but one cannot deny that our multiplexes and streaming platforms are littered with slow burning, subtly sweet stories of middle class white men. What’s one more?
That question is what holds PATERSON back. But make no mistake, this is tender exploration of the lyricism of everyday life. Some of us are blessed enough to have our passions become our main reason for getting up every morning. Others have to tend to the mundane tasks that keep our towns and cities running, while carving out little slivers of time to delight in their passions. These people are bus-driving poets, file-processing seamstresses, coffee-pouring musicians, and floor-mopping carpenters.
They take inspiration from the sounds of their appliances, or the sights of the sun hitting their path to work, and look at these same things the rest of us do with an increased sense of delight.
Their story is a beautiful one. They make the most of the hand they’ve been dealt…finding ways to make routine seem unique.