Paterson, like nearly all Jim Jarmusch films, may not be to everyone's taste. It does not rely on unique drama or compelling plot to rein in viewers. Instead, it takes a quiet, careful, and often amusing look into the life of an ostensibly average guy who has the soul, eye, and writing ability of a great poet. The title character (Adam Driver) plays a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey. He is a quiet, unassuming, and pleasant person who goes through his daily routines and does his job without flair or drama. But he writes poems when inspiration strikes him, which is often at times and places that most of us would not expect. He finds beauty and emotion in his relationship with his artistic and quirky wife, Lara (Golshifteh Farahani), in the little objects laying around his home, in the natural and man-made structures along his walk between work and home, and any number of other moments and materials that surround him on a daily basis. Throughout the day, he steals little moments to cast his observations and feelings into expertly-crafted poems, which he keeps in a simple notebook but shows to nobody, including his beloved wife.
As with others of Jarmusch's movies, Paterson stays away from conventional storytelling in many ways. Although there are a few moments of tension here and there, no grand conflict emerges. There is no great battle in which the protagonist must engage, and if he changes at all, it is only in the subtlest of ways. But this is what makes a movie like this special. Like the best poetry, the movie is a beautifully captured portrait of something special which goes unnoticed by virtually everyone around it. There doesn't need to be a profound message or lesson to it. Instead, the purpose of a movie like this is to show us something in the world that is, while ostensibly mundane, filled with moments that can inspire awe and joy. Paterson may not be an outwardly impressive person, but he's found a sort of balanced happiness in his simple life. If one weren't privy to his inner thoughts, it might seem strange and even extremely boring. But by showing us the man's inner world through his poetry, we can get a far better idea of how and why he lives a wonderfully fulfilling life, as he sees and defines it.
I can't say that I found the movie flawless. The character of Paterson's wife, Laura, smacks a tiny bit of the "manic pixie dreamgirl" trope, being an odd, ever-shifting but always cheery font of positivity. And as seen in other Jarmusch films, dialogue is not necessarily his strong suit. There are certainly some very funny lines, but it does not always feel completely organic. Fortunately, the film's strengths don't rest on either of these things, so they don't greatly weaken the movie. The excellent performances of the primary actors easily outweigh any minor shortcomings of the script.
Paterson will not be for everyone. It has a calm, deliberate pace, and a purposeful lack of high drama. Those who enjoy more traditional stories in which a hero emerges, faces down some form of antagonist, and ultimately triumphs, will perhaps not have the patience for this movie. It is a long piece of Zen poetry cast onto film. For those in the mood for such a thing, you'll likely find this one to be a modern masterpiece. It's not a movie that I'll feel the need to watch again and again, but I am quite sure that I will eventually be in the right state of mind to again take in and appreciate the sublime portrait that Jarmusch has created for us.