For over 30 years Jim Jarmusch has been making his low-key punky dramedies, after coming out of the New York Punk and later No-Wave scenes. However, like the Coen Brothers, he originally had a midwestern background, so he has an affinity for outsiders in small working-class towns.
His latest film is Paterson which, like Dead Man, has poetry at the forefront of the protagonist’s mind, even if they are very different films. Paterson is about a young man of the same name played by Adam Driver, who shares his name with the town he lives in. He writes poems in-between his shifts as a bus driver and, as he says to a young girl who also writes poetry, “I kinda like them better when they don’t rhyme.” He is married to Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) who is Iranian but aspires to be a country singer. Laura he urges Paterson to publish his poetry but he constantly refuses to do so. They have a dog who he takes for walks before stopping off for a beer: the dog won the Palm Dog Award at Cannes, but sadly it was posthumous.
The film’s title is a reference to William Carlos William’s poem “Paterson,” and other key local connections also turn up, from Allan Ginsburg to Lou Costello. Jarmusch also shoehorns in a mention of Iggy Pop supposedly winning “sexiest man of the year” at a Paterson high school.
Driver has recently become a bankable name after starring in Girls, and of course being the bad guy in Star Wars—and for Jarmusch he turns in a career-best performance. He is playing a character who shares traits with both Jarmusch and himself, but it’s done in that laid-back methodical way that Jarmusch’s characters always exhibit. Farahani, who has been banned from her home country and so is forced to make films overseas now, is wonderful as his girlfriend. Moonrise Kingdom‘s two leads, Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, also appear in a fun cameo as two local anarchists.
Paterson might be Jarmusch’s best fiction film since at the very least Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, if not Dead Man, because he scales it all back to the bare minimum of plot. It’s as if he read the Robert Rodriguez book Rebel Without a Crew and took the advice of using what you have around you. It’s a unique film in that it deals with a young working-class artist who isn’t focused on being “discovered,” which is very much how Jarmusch’s life could have turned out if he never moved to the mean streets of ’70s New York City.
Like all of Jarmusch’s best work, it’s funny, touching and ultimately moving with effortless cool. It’s also beautifully filmed by Frederick Elmes, who has been Jarmusch’s cinematographer after Robby Müller stopped working, Elmes started his career with David Lynch, who has hair that’s almost as impressive as Jim’s. It’s a gem of a film, and a slight departure for Jarmusch because it lacks the hipper-than-hip soundtrack and more star-studded casts that he tends to use instead focuses on atmosphere, humour and humanity.
The disc, like most Jarmusch releases, is not heavily loaded with extras. It does include a solid Q&A with Adam Driver, which was shot at the Picturehouse Central in London, and the trailer.