I’ve had mixed feeling about Adam Driver playing Kylo Ren in the new Star Wars movies. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly think he’s good in the role. In fact, I think he’s one of the more interesting young-ish actors working today. I like that he has such a distinct appearance, setting him apart from a lot of his contemporaries. But I do worry about the fame that comes with doing a movie like Star Wars. That’s a film series with a checkered history when it comes to post-Star Wars success. Only Harrison Ford went on to be a true “movie star.” But Driver pre-Star Wars was better known than Ford was pre-Star Wars. He’s probably more in line with someone like Ewan McGregor, who had done plenty of critically revered work before The Phantom Menace.
Anyway, my point is I like Driver as an actor and hope that he continues to make interesting work, despite whatever comes out of Star Wars. And the culmination of my point is that Paterson, which just had its premiere at the New York Film Festival, gives me all the hope in the world that this will happen.
Is there anyone who captures the essence of the mundane better than Jim Jarmusch? When I think back to Broken Flowers, it’s kind of remarkable that it has as dense of a plot as it does, at least when compared to Only Lovers Left Alive, which has to be the most mundane vampire movie ever made. (It’s nice knowing that even vampires get bored.) And now Paterson, which sets the bar even higher for capturing what daily life is like for most people.
Do you know how some movies will start by letting us get to know the characters by showing us what their daily life is like? Then the plot starts, but you liked establishing stuff better? The characters seemed fun to observe before the bank robbery, or whatever, happens. That’s kind of what Paterson is like for the whole movie. In the first act, when Paterson* (Driver) is driving a city bus through Paterson, New Jersey, it’s a pleasant experience full of mundane intricacies, but in a normal movie this is what we’d be watching right before Paterson witnesses a murder that changes his life forever. In Paterson, we watch Paterson’s whole week unfold before us. Day by day by day. (By day.)
(*The fact his name is Paterson and he lives in Paterson, New Jersey is addressed in the movie, but we never find out if Paterson is a first name, a last name, or even if the guy’s full name is Pat Erson and people just like saying both names. I’m going to just assume the last option is true unless told differently.)
Routine is an interesting thing. I bet most people don’t think they have much of a routine. I mean, sure, we get up and go to work, but the rest of our day is fairly up in the air, right? Though, I suspect if our lives were filmed we’d be surprised at how much of the same stuff we do on a daily basis. (I don’t think I’d like to be shown a movie about myself and I’m glad absolutely no one wants to make one.)
Paterson (or, Pat Erson, probably) gets up every weekday between 6:15 and 6:30. He drives a city bus all day. He comes home to his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). They eat. He then walks his dog (there is good dog acting in this movie) to the local pub where, then, Paterson has a beer. And when he can, in-between all of this, he writes poetry. Then the next day, repeat. (I will say, Paterson has one of the best cinematic depictions of what going to a local pub is like. There are sadsacks. There are nice people. There are jilted lovers. It reminds me of a local bar on the Upper East Side of Manhattan called Fetch that’s no longer there. It had the same kinds of people and those same people were there like clockwork every night. I miss that place.)
There are little differences in each day that probably make all of us feel we aren’t living the same day over and over. But if aliens observed us individually, there’s a good chance it would look like we do the exact same thing every day. But what makes Paterson so great is that the movie doesn’t take pity on its subject. Lesser movies always do. “Oh, this poor soul doesn’t realize he’s wasting his day.” Well, maybe he’s not. Maybe he’s really happy. Maybe the poetry he writes every day is all the escape he needs. And maybe that’s all he wants. On Paterson’s dresser is a picture of him in the Marine Corps. (which, I’m sure, is Driver’s real-life photo), so who knows what horrors he may or may not have seen. If he did, it’s not addressed. But maybe a simple life, driving a bus and living with the wife he loves is enough for him.
And that’s the beauty of Paterson – being able to find the beauty in what, at least on the surface, seems like the most mundane of lives. And it should be something that’s celebrated.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.