Slow verse

Latest from Jim Jarmusch revels in poetry of mundane

Opens Friday, Feb. 24. Starring Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani. Directed by Jim Jarmusch. Pageant Theatre. Rated R.
Rated 5.0

Paterson is about a bus driver in Paterson, N.J., who writes poetry. His name is also Paterson, and he’s played, quietly and with an amiable sort of gravity, by Adam Driver. The film is written and directed by that quirky master of magical movie minimalism, Jim Jarmusch (Stranger Than Paradise).

And even though it doesn’t have much in the way of fast action and suspenseful drama, Paterson has a strange and gently enchanting beauty to it, and its unhurried celebration of mundane detail consistently proves unexpectedly fascinating.

By conventional movie standards, not much happens in Jarmusch’s film, but part of the point is that Paterson is very much about the things worth noticing in the patently “nondramatic” places and moments and actions of everyday life. And the film’s bus driver/poet is very much inclined to give close, kindly, patient attention to such matters.

A central thread of the film, of course, has to do with giving that attention, taking notice. And a central part of that has to do with poetry—reading it, writing it, reciting it and hearing it. With the bus driver’s poetry, we see him writing it, hear him reading it aloud (in voice-over), and read it via the handwritten subtitles that appear onscreen as he speaks aloud.

There are allusions to several great American poets, but some of the film’s best scenes involve the bus driver’s encounters with ordinary folk whom he recognizes as fellow poets—a rapper working on his rhymes in a laundromat; a young girl writing in her “secret book” while waiting on the street for her mom and her older sister; a Japanese tourist with a rucksack full of notebooks paying homage to William Carlos Williams and his book-length poem titled Paterson.

But the film also gives a good deal of time and attention to the various people that Driver’s character encounters during and/or after working hours. “Twinned” characters recur, as do troubled couples. The painful and protracted breakup of two denizens of the bus driver’s favorite tavern is one of the more striking episodes in the film. “Doc” (Barry Shabaka Henley), the tavern’s world-weary proprietor, makes a particularly strong impression among the story’s secondary characters. The bus driver’s dog Marvin (played by a bulldog named Nellie) figures as a comic/ironic character in his own right, and thus gets third billing in the cast list.

The bus driver is married, happily for the most part, to Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), whose flourishing creativity gets expressed through multiple aspects of the domestic realm. It’s noteworthy as well that the bus driver is very much at ease in a place where most of his neighbors are people of color and/or immigrants, and that Jarmusch’s film takes this as a given rather than as a point to be emphasized.

The bus driver and several other characters express special reverence for William Carlos Williams, the great modern American poet who was a working physician in Rutherford, N.J., for much of his life. There are also some reverential mentions of Frank O’Hara, a major figure in the New York school of mid-century poets.

The bus driver’s poems were written for the film by Ron Padgett, a second generation “New York poet” whose career as writer, editor and teacher seems very much in tune with the playful, energizing, street-level sense of poetic vocation that Jarmusch celebrates here.