You wouldn’t expect Jim Jarmusch, that eminent stylist of the American independent cinema, to make a movie about a New Jersey bus driver who writes poetry. Nor would you imagine that a bulldog he owns called Marvin gets so annoyed at his apparent neglect that he tears the diary in which the poems are set out bit by bit apart.
I have never subscribed to the idea that Jarmusch lacks humour or a lighter touch. After all Only Lovers Left Alive was not exactly fearsomely obscure and lacking in laughter. Even so, this light and airy trifle about the love of words is a bit of a surprise. It enraged some of the director’s Cannes more serious supporters and charmed a lot of the rest of us almost to death.
Our bus driver (Adam Driver) is a simple soul, happily married to Laura (the Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani) whom he cuddles fondly every morning before plodding off to work. The dog sees it all, perhaps jealously, but with a stare Jarmusch watches on and off during the whole film. Any more of this latter trope might suggest the influence of Disney. But the upshot is that our canine friend is a shoo-in for the Palme Dog award given annually at the end of the festival.
Be that as it may, this is a simple story about a fairly simple man whose wife, while he is forging his poetic diary, creates cupcakes, practices country and western singing and looks after her husband like a good suburban woman should. Jarmusch puts a lot of the poetry on the screen, suggesting that our bus driver has taken much of his inspiration from William Carlos Williams who worked as a doctor when not writing his verse. Actually the lines are by the 73-year-old Oklahoma poet Ron Padgett whom Jarmusch admires, and though they don’t seem quite as good as Wordsworth and co, they are nice enough to substantiate the director’s love of poetry and the often odd people that write it.
The film can hardly be accused of dramatic over-emphasis, since nothing much happens from start to finish except Marvin’s wicked murder of the poor bus driver’s diary. But it glides along comfortably enough as a portrait of very ordinary lives somewhat lifted to the skies by both verse and cupcakes. Paterson isn’t a bit patronising. It is just a rather sweet story. And what, pray, is wrong with that, even from a film-maker who usually makes cool seem hot.