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Paper Man (A Movie Review)

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

PAPER MAN (2010)

Starring Jeff Daniels, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Lisa Kudrow, Kieran Culkin, Hunter Parrish, Arabella Field and Chris Parnell.

Screenplay by Kieran Mulroney and Michele Mulroney.

Directed by Kieran Mulroney and Michele Mulroney.

Distributed by Artfire Films. 110 minutes. Rated R.

Even before the closing credit which says this film was made with the assistance of the Sundance Institute, you could tell that this movie was made specifically for film festival approval. Full of quirky touches, miserable characters, dark secrets and imaginary friends, Paper Man is trying so hard to be artistic and deep that it forgets to simply be good and watchable.

Paper Man is a movie written for film critics and professors, not filmgoers. Which in itself does not necessarily make a movie bad, but when you limit your aim so drastically, you have to be damned sure you’ve got the right stuff to receive that kind of acclaim. There is nothing worse than art for art’s sake when that art is not particularly accomplished.

Jeff Daniels plays Richard Dunn, the author of an overlooked first novel who moves up to a remote cabin for solitude to work on the follow-up book for which apparently no one is waiting. Yet, he has a monumental case of writer’s block. Literally, he is there for weeks and never makes it past the first line in the book (in fact, the only switch he makes in all that time is obsessively changing the lead character’s name over and over.) Even at the very end of the movie, at which point he has supposedly finally gotten himself together, he has still apparently only written half a page. Perhaps the dude should consider a change in profession.

However, due to a friendship with a younger woman (Emma Stone), he is finally able to move past his massive store of neuroses, repair his strained relationship with his wife (Lisa Kudrow) and finally get his creative juices flowing, at least a bit.

It’s not exactly the world’s most original story idea – hell, Paper Man star Jeff Daniels played essentially the same blocked writer character in last year’s similarly titled but lighter-vibed The Answer Man.

Of course, Richard is beyond mere quirkiness, he often seems borderline insane. He is the type of offbeat movie character who moves all the furniture from his house to the outside because it feels “wrong,” builds a (very uncomfortable looking) couch made up of unsold copies of his first book and hires a young girl to be a babysitter even though he has no children. If all this wasn’t odd enough, ever since he was seven years old, he has been getting life advice from an imaginary superhero named Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds). Despite Reynolds’ front and center appearance in the marketing of the movie, his character is barely in the film, and he’s a figment of another character’s imagination to boot.

There is such a fine line between being an art house eccentric and a sociopath.

That said, if there is a saving grace to this movie, it is the relationship between Richard and Abby – the younger girl played by Stone. In Abby, Richard finds something of a kindred spirit, a fellow lost soul who was touched by tragedy (she watched her sister drown when she was only eight), is mistreated by her tough guy boyfriend (Hunter Parrish) and constantly followed (almost stalked) by a smitten old friend (Kieran Culkin).

Richard and Abby bond over literature, origami, the simplicity of making soup and past tragedies and soon she becomes almost a daughter figure to him. (Thankfully, this relationship is kept completely platonic other than one drunken miscommunication.) Stone takes on this cipher of a character and brings out the heart in her and Daniels never seems so involved in the film as when he is working with her.

The film was written and directed by first-timers Kieran and Michele Mulroney. They are the brother and sister-in-law of actor Dermot Mulroney. Kieran has also had a long if somewhat undistinguished career as a character actor. He may be best remembered for accusing George Costanza of “double-dipping his chip” in a classic episode of Seinfeld.

Paper Man does show them to have some talent as writers and directors, but I’m not going to lie, this is not a very good film. Hopefully it can be chalked up to first feature jitters, but Hollywood can be a very unforgiving place, you don’t always get a second chance. There is enough promise in Paper Man that I hope that they do get that shot, but I also hope they take better advantage of the opportunity than they have here.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2011 All rights reserved. Posted: January 18, 2011.

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