'Paterson' is charming, if also headscratch-inducing

'Paterson' stars Adam Driver as a bus driver who also composes poetry. Director Jim Jarmusch is a poet of silences and the unsaid, but there are times when the action is so rarified that it mists into nothingness.

Mary Cybulsky/Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street/AP
'Paterson' stars Adam Driver.

Jim Jarmusch’s best qualities are inseparable from his worst, as demonstrated once again in “Paterson,” starring Adam Driver as a bus driver named Paterson from Paterson, N.J. I am hugely sympathetic to Jarmusch’s hang-loose stylistics, the way he lets a scene play out so softly and allusively that he makes you aware of how manipulatively melodramatic most movies are. He’s a poet of silences and the unsaid.

And yet, there are times in even his best movies when the action, such as it is, is so rarified that it mists into nothingness. He’s great at setting a mood, less good at filling it in.

“Paterson” takes place during one bright-leaved autumn week and mostly consists of Paterson moping his way genially through his humdrum life while his almost pathologically upbeat wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), caters to his whimsical penchant for composing poetry. The poetry is a nod to, of course, New Jersey native William Carlos Williams, whose book of verse, "Paterson," is seminal.

Paterson’s poetry (written by poet Ron Padgett) is gnomic and rather sweet, full of closely observed minutiae about such things as the beauty of Ohio Blue Tip matchbook covers. When he’s not musing about his odes or driving his city bus, he’s having one beer every night at the neighborhood bar before returning to adoring Laura. All in all, a nice, pokey life – but not a terribly fascinating one.

Driver’s low-key charisma in the role rescues it from terminal dullness, and there are a few fine sidelights, like Paterson’s encounter with a Japanese visitor (Masatoshi Nagase) who is carrying a volume of Williams’ “Paterson. ” The scene is charming, if also headscratch-inducing, and much the same could be said for this entire film. Grade: B- (Rated R for some language.)

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