Thursday, May 5, 2011

Paper Man (2010)

Clunky, overlong dramedy that begins, promisingly enough, about an author having a crisis of identity while on a retreat in Montauk, before deevolving into yet another indie about an older man and a younger woman helping each other get past their personal quirks. One key distinguishing factor in this one is that the man in the relationship, Richard, actually laments on how his problems are not "real" problems; however, he cannot gain enough objectivity to actually get over his white, bourgois inner turmoil, which is fine compared to the heavy-handed, sludge-paced dilemmas of his youthful, female counterpart. It is funny when Richard replaces his garish couch with a couch made out of copies of his unsuccessful novel, but it is not as funny when Emma Stone's Abby continually throws matches into a steel drum in an attempt to light garbage on fire reason. Richard's most interesting personal quirk, one that never truly reaches its comic and dramatic potential, is his imaginary friend, the peroxide-haired Captain Excellent, who, with his stalwart nature and wisecracking tenacity, provides a consistent source of strength for the edgy, neurotic author. After a strong, humorous, and surprisingly touching first half, the film becomes more and more plodding, lifeless, and redundant, reducing every character to their most sappy, melodramatic cores and, for the most part, leaving the abundant comic curiosities of the film behind (although a late scene between Captain Excellent and another character manages to transcend the rest of the climax). The film would have had definite crossover potential had it managed to avoid these common, pretentious indie movie pitfalls.

Part of its potential crossover appeal would've been due to its excellent, prolific cast, which, essentially, bolsters the movie, and keeps it from being a total wash. The best of the actors is Jeff Daniels, who, as Richard, turns in one of the finest performances of his career. Matching the comic affability of Harry Dunne, while bringing his mental shagginess (but not his shaggy beard) over from The Squid and the Whale, he achieves an ideal balance between affability and complexity that sustains the films watchability, even at its most turgid and corny. Had the film remained more about him than the cliched, tired, and overused "teen relationship" plotline that transpires, this would have been a more memorable, noteworthy film. But the more Emma Stone's character reveals about her neuroses, troubled relationships, and self-doubt, the less true and concise the film feels. Which is not to detract from her performance, which, surprisingly, creates a human being out of what would, otherwise, be a series of character quirks and contrivances. The rest of the cast is up to snuff, as well: Kieran Culkin is likably angsty as Abby's best friend, Hunter Parrish is funny and showy as Abby's P.O.S. boyfriend, Lisa Kudrow is restrained and identifiable as Richard's barely-there surgeon wife, and Ryan Reynolds is ideal, albeit too seldomly shown, as Captain Excellent. It is really, truly too bad that the film ends up falling under the weight of its own pretension, and does not prove worthy of the performances and actors that have contributed to it.

Skip it, save for fans of Jeff Daniels, who really does turn in magnetic, strong work here. But, unfortunately, he does so for yet another quirky, low-key mid-life-crisis indie melodrama.

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