This review was originally published during the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival
Paterson, the new film by American treasure Jim Jarmusch, turns down the cool factor of his last film, 2014's vampires-as-rock-stars piece Only Lovers Left Alive (which might be the hangout film of the decade), for something a little more in tune with his earlier work.
Always fascinated by the minutiae and rhythms of daily life, Jarmusch takes an elegant and melancholic look at life in Paterson, ruminating on themes from throughout his career with a certain wistfulness. It's his best film since Broken Flowers and a mini-masterpiece on the smallest of scales, brooding and chilly and full of life.
Adam Driver plays the titular Paterson, a bus driver by day and a poet by night, in the city of Paterson, New Jersey (a gag touched on throughout the film). There are allusions to a previous life in the military, but he's the sort of guy who keeps pretty quiet, observing life as it passes by and writing his thoughts in a notebook he keeps in the basement.
The film traces a subtly momentous week in Paterson's life, as his exuberant, spontaneous and artsy wife gets ready for a cupcake sale at the farmer's market and buys a guitar online. Every day, Paterson drives the bus, listens to people talk, writes beautifully crafted poems on his lunch break, comes home and goes for a drink at the bar while walking the dog. The film is so sparse, so lovingly endeavoured to capturing an autumn slice of life in a small town, one wouldn't be wrong to assume the film takes place in a bygone era (Paterson even refuses to own a cellphone). But Jarmusch doesn't weigh the film down in nostalgia; he peppers the frame with signifiers of the present day, and both Paterson the town and Paterson the man are weighed down by modern anxieties caused by money, work and relationships.
Driver gives a fantastic lead turn, quietly conveying worlds of thought with his expressive eyes. For his part, Jarmusch doesn't turn down his oddball sense of humour too much, letting scenes breathe and punctuating contemplative moments with out of left-field punchlines. It all builds to a genuinely moving conclusion that is among the best of this year. Don't miss Paterson at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.