Paterson (Adam Driver) wakes up in bed next to his wife Laura (Goldshifteh Farahani) on Monday morning and she awakens too, telling him she had a dream where she had twin babies. But he has no time to consider any implications of this, and gets up for his work as a bus driver, eating his usual breakfast of cereal then noting the box of matches on the kitchen table. This fires up his imagination more than his spouse's dream, and he sets about composing a poem in his mind; this is what he likes to do, he makes up simple poetry for his own amusement, and nobody else's, allowing his mind to wander as he jots down the words in his notebook. Laura is always asking to read them, or that he makes a copy, but he never does...
Here was a Jim Jarmusch movie that made a virtue of inconsequentiality, leaving it not one of his major works yet bolstered more by his others, meaning if you came to this cold and not experiencing what else he had dreamt up, you could well wonder what the big deal was and why he was awarded such high praise by those who were familiar with his oeuvre. It was not one to start with if you were new to him, though if you responded to films that gloried in the mundane and everyday, probably more the provenance of television than the silver screen, then by all means give this a go. At its heart you would be tempted to observe Driver gave the much of a muchness of the action its heart, but that might not be accurate.
It could be that Farahani was the one who was the, er, driving force of the drama: Laura had the ambitions we could tell would never be fulfilled, plus Marvin was her dog, and she was a lot more engaged with life in a hands on fashion than her husband who sauntered through it refusing to rise to major challenges since they would only interfere with his relaxed vibe. Paterson was very close to a cypher around whom the other characters crossed paths or verbally (sometimes physically) bounced off each other, but their activity in a curious way threw his own peace with the world into sharper relief. You needed that contrast to render the protagonist a fully-rounded personality: he sees all this around him but prefers to take his contentment from the unremarkable.
Did this create the remarkable almost by accident? Not really, as Jarmusch toyed with expectations, bringing in possible connections and scenes that could pay off later, then leaving them unresolved, almost perversely refusing to play by cinematic conventions that almost every other filmmaker would be itching to bring to the boil. Then again, when there was action, in the loosest sense of the word, it was either on a sitcom level that was so obvious it grew more ridiculous the more you thought about it, or an anti-climax with a purpose, instead of ramping up any possible tension it did the opposite and meandered to the end of a scene leaving any thrill-seekers in the lurch. For instance, Laura covets a black and white guitar with all the accoutrements, but insists that Paterson pays for it - does this lead to a fight? Nope, he takes it in his stride.
Even though we can practically read his mind as Laura enthuses that she will now be able to be the next Tammy Wynette with this instrument, when as we see on her musical performance that she's strictly amateur hour. Does Paterson laugh her out of the room? Now why would he do that? She is happy enough with her fantasies of a future that will never be, and he is happy if she is happy - the success of her cupcakes is her highest achievement in the film, and it truly satisfies her, which in turn is satisfying to watch if you are in any way invested in the couple by that point. Paterson is offered a testing day by Jarmusch, but he does not lose his temper when, say, the bus breaks down, he deals with it and his passengers, even proves you don't need to carry around a smartphone to get by in the twenty-first century. His poetry, too, seems grounded in another, simpler era, which may be a fantasy in itself, but one which offers him comfort as he pens his lines for nobody in particular. It wouldn't stun you with its insights, but if you liked to pause and take stock of your life every so often, this film would be very appealing.