Paterson is the purest distillation yet of Jim Jarmusch's aesthetic. The title refers to the town in New Jersey as well as the character: Adam Driver plays a man named Paterson, who lives in Paterson. (It also refers to William Carlos Williams' masterpiece Paterson, an epic poem about splendor in the everyday.) Paterson goes through his daily routine: waking up, talking to his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), driving a bus, walking his dog. The language of real life drifts in and out of his world. He hears men talking about women, kids talking about revolution and coffee, a rapper practicing his rhymes, a co-worker complaining about his family. He carves his poems, slowly, patiently out of all that mundane material.
That approach is not unlike Jarmusch's, who here steadily builds meaning and beauty out of simplicity and routine. Jarmusch's films usually have tangible narrative arcs -- even if they're loose and subdued -- but Paterson is resolutely undramatic, following a week in this man's life with minimal changes in his day-to-day. And yet, with each step, the film gains depth. Small variations in routine start to feel monumental.
Driver's defining quality heretofore has been his intensity, so he might not seem at first the right choice for a part like this. But he grows into it beautifully: Paterson is a big lug who drives a big bus, and the actor is able to convey thought without ever seeming self-absorbed. Paterson might be composing poems in his mind, but he's also aware of his world; he lives in the moment, absorbing the bits and pieces around him and shaping them into something new.