Paper Man

  • 2009
  • Movie
  • R
  • Comedy, Drama

Kieran Mulroney and Michele Mulroney's Paper Man is very much a writer's movie -- which is not a surprise, as the core of its premise concerns a middle-aged writer (Jeff Daniels) who is suffering from writer's block (though that’s the least of his problems). His Richard Dunn is a failed novelist, author of one unsuccessful book, with another threatening...read more

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Reviewed by Bruce Eder
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Kieran Mulroney and Michele Mulroney's Paper Man is very much a writer's movie -- which is not a surprise, as the core of its premise concerns a middle-aged writer (Jeff Daniels) who is suffering from writer's block (though that’s the least of his problems). His Richard Dunn is a failed novelist, author of one unsuccessful book, with another threatening to be aborted in its embryonic stages when he rents a house off-season in Montauk, Long Island, to try and deal with the problem. He and his wife, Claire (Lisa Kudrow), a cardiovascular surgeon at a major New York hospital, already have a marriage that is strained below the surface when he takes up residence in this retreat and finds a new friend in Abby (Emma Stone), a 17-year-old girl from the neighborhood, who so beguiles Richard (for reasons that are difficult to understand at first) that he hires her as a babysitter once a week, even though he and Claire have no children.

Thus begins this offbeat comedy drama, which seems to derive in equal parts from the humor of Chris Elliott (especially Get a Life) and the bleakness of Ingmar Bergman (with Montauk in the winter as a good substitute for Scandinavia). The movie is all about the odd personal interaction/sojourn between these two people, who are both seriously dislocated in life. Richard has never grown up, and is so childlike in his exterior life that Claire seems compelled to mother him. In his internal life, he has kept an imaginary friend, Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds), from childhood; Captain Excellent appears, in full costume, interacting with Richard at various points of stress in his life. Abby seems, by contrast, to have lost her own childhood, owing to a family tragedy involving a twin sister for which she may be partly to blame -- and she, too, has an imaginary friend, Christopher (Kieran Culkin), a would-be boyfriend who seems to epitomize elements of goth culture. These two lost souls and their companions form a bond that seems to offer each some clue as to what they're missing in their lives, and therein hangs the movie. There is a lot of psychodrama, to say the least, and when it involves Daniels' and Stone's characters -- which is much of the movie -- that works fine, within certain limits; the actress gives a beautiful performance in a compelling part, and in her quiet, understated way revels in the opportunity afforded by this script.

Daniels' character, however, is closer to the center of the movie, and that is where a central flaw resides. The actor is almost too good in his portrayal of this annoyingly needy and passive figure; the only place where he breaks out of that pattern is when he tries to mix with Abby's high school friends (including her hyper-aggressive boyfriend, Bryce, played with convincing assertiveness by Hunter Parrish), in an ultimately disastrous birthday celebration for her. There is too little to sympathize with in Richard, who is one of the more annoying central figures in a movie in many a year, and there's not enough of Lisa Kudrow's Claire to allow her character a solid footing at the center of the movie. That leaves Stone to carry much of the weight of the film, which she does -- perhaps making it a somewhat darker movie the writer/directors intended, as Abby’s problems are, inherently, much more serious than Richard's ever could be. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Abby is the only character that comes off at all sympathetic.) There is also some humor in here, to be sure, especially in the treatment of the imaginary friends, with Ryan Reynolds doing a lot of good work as Captain Excellent, and Kieran Culkin somewhat less as Christopher -- their dialogue is perhaps the movie's single most inspired element. Mark McAdam's original score, complete with a tiny handful of songs, is also memorably lyrical, and lends an emotional accessibility to some of the material that compensates for some of the more off-putting aspects of the central characters.

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  • Released: 2009
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Kieran Mulroney and Michele Mulroney's Paper Man is very much a writer's movie -- which is not a surprise, as the core of its premise concerns a middle-aged writer (Jeff Daniels) who is suffering from writer's block (though that’s the least of his problems… (more)

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