Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Paper Man" - Movie Review

Last night, my movie class showed a comedy/drama called Paper Man , starring Jeff Daniels, Emma Stone and Lisa Kudrow


When a creatively blocked novelist bonds with a teenage girl, they find each other to be the emotional support system they both need during their troubled times -- but when the writer's wife discovers their friendship, will this endanger their marriage?


New York City residents Richard Dunn (Daniels) and his wife Claire (Kudrow) have just moved in to a quaint little cottage way out in the Montauk section of Long Island in order to help Richard write his second novel. Overcome with Writer's Block, he finds himself unable to even begin the work, despite the fact that he has a publisher's deadline looming. Claire, a Manhattan surgeon, believes that leaving him alone for days without any distractions in this relatively tiny community will help him to focus on his book and get his writing done while she attends to her own work in the city. Soon, Richard finds that being alone with his thoughts throughout the course of an average day is not a particularly healthy thing for him.

While in town one afternoon, he runs into Abby (Stone), a troubled 17 year old girl, and asks her if she'd be available to do some babysitting for him. Upon showing up for the assignment, however, she learns that there's no child to watch -- basically, she's just going to act as housesitter for a few hours while Richard goes off to be by himself. This routine continues for a while and eventually, despite their vast age difference, the two loners manage to somehow carve out a friendship with each other as kindred spirits. She provides him with companionship and confidence in his writing -- neither of which he can get from his wife -- and he provides her with the male friendship that her boyfriend is unwilling and incapable of offering. Over time, he learns that her emotional struggles come from the death of her twin sister, which she may have been able to prevent.

Insinuating himself a bit too much in Abby's life, he offers to allow his house to be used for a party her boyfriend wishes to throw for his friends. During the party, Richard and Abby's boyfriend get into a fight and she sides with Richard, throwing out her boyfriend and all of the guests. Afterwards, Richard and Abby cuddle together on a makeshift couch in the livingroom and fall asleep; the next morning, they are discovered by Claire, who is accompanied by a couple she and Richard know. Shocked at this revelation, she throws out Abby and a huge argument ensues between Claire and Richard in which their mutual dissatisfaction with their marriage is finally put out in the open. But will they be able to find a way to repair their troubled union and stay together?


Despite strong performances by the cast, this is a movie that can't be saved -- and perhaps, it doesn't deserve to be. Having many of the characteristics of a filmmaker's first attempt, it suffers from thinking of itself as being a little too precious, as far as I'm concerned. Also, the fact that it seems to meander about for a good deal of the movie -- in particular, the first act, if not the entire first half -- doesn't help, either. Daniels' character is supposed to be the hero, but quite honestly, I didn't find him to be terribly sympathetic and as a result, found it difficult to root for him. His character behaves in a way that's so immature and neurotic -- if not borderline psychotic -- that you have to wonder how the screenwriters expected an audience to get behind him. Richard spends way too much time feeling sorry for himself for anyone else in the audience to find it easy to join him.

Kudrow plays it pretty straight throughout the movie and perhaps that's where the audience is supposed to be rooting against her and by default, rooting for Daniels' character. It would appear the filmmakers' intention was -- at least at times -- to make Claire come off as some kind of shrill virago, but it doesn't work because of the two, she's the only one who appears to be behaving like a grown - up. In one respect, it's good that their attempt to make her look like The Bad Guy fails because otherwise, they could not hint at the possibility of the two reconciling late in the movie. You look at this couple and wonder what she ever saw in him to marry him in the first place.

Stone, Richard's teenage pal, is believable as the angst - filled adolescent, but there's too much of a creepy feeling between her character of Abby and that of Richard -- there is constantly a sexual or romantic undercurrent ongoing between them throughout much of the movie and I found it to be more than just a little bit distracting because if it did happen, then you'd completely fall out of the movie. But just the fact that possibility existed if only on a subconscious level, that was enough to make me feel uncomfortable.

In a nutshell, I can't particularly recommend this movie -- and judging from the response from the majority of the class, I don't think they liked it too much, either. Even the instructor struggled to find positive things to say about this one -- and he really does try to find favorable comments about almost every movie shown in the class.