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‘Paterson’ review: Adam Driver as a poetry-writing bus driver

Adam Driver drives a bus and writes poetry

Adam Driver drives a bus and writes poetry in "Paterson." Credit: Amazon Studios / Mary Cybulsky

PLOT A week in the life of a New Jersey bus driver who writes poetry.

CAST Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Barry Shabaka Henley

RATED R (some language and suggested sexuality)


PLAYING AT Manhasset Cinemas.

BOTTOM LINE Jim Jarmusch’s latest has moments of beauty that help compensate for a slightly static narrative.

“Paterson,” Jim Jarmusch’s ode to the creative spirit, stars Adam Driver as a New Jersey bus driver named for the town where he lives and works. Paterson is also a poet who writes several times a day, often during his lunch break on the banks of the Passaic River — the very place where another Paterson poet, William Carlos Williams, once found inspiration. Jarmusch’s Paterson, however, doesn’t want to publish or ever show anyone his work. Whether out of fear or because of a more personal reason, we don’t know.

Composed almost entirely of quiet reveries punctuated by conversations with quirky neighborhood folks, “Paterson” perfectly captures the solitary, transportive pleasure of a creative pursuit. Paterson wakes each morning next to his beautiful wife, Laura (a mesmerizing Golshifteh Farahani), then steers his way through a stream of city streets and half-finished passenger conversations. Nights are spent walking the dog and stopping at the local bar, where Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley) serves him a single beer. “I look down at the glass,” goes one freshly-composed couplet, “and feel glad.” (Paterson’s beguiling poems come courtesy of the Oklahoma-born writer Ron Padgett.)

There is visual and spiritual poetry in this movie, but also some problems. “Paterson” feels like Jarmusch’s attempt to step away from the hipsters and bohemians that frequently populate his films (from 1984’s “Stranger Than Paradise” to 2013’s “Only Lovers Left Alive”) and focus on “real” Americans. The working class are often the go-to people for such notions, and here Jarmusch falls into a trap. He seems charmed by the smallness of Paterson’s day-to-day life but avoids giving the character any actual problems. Debt, crime, layoffs, racial tension — these things don’t exist for Paterson the man or the town. The portrait Jarmusch paints has a faint air of condescension.

“Paterson” wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does without Driver, an actor who can do a great deal by doing very little, and he helps bring the movie to a satisfying close by giving us, at last, a glimpse into Paterson’s heart. It’s a beautiful moment, mirrored by one of Padgett’s poems about an old song with a single line so memorable that “the rest of the song didn’t have to be there.”

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