In the tradition of Lost In Translation and The Squid and the Whale, Paper Man is a wonderfully quirky drama about people trying desperately to find the same joy in real life as they do in their imagination. Golden Globe® and Tony® nominee Jeff Daniels stars as Richard Dunn, a no-hit wonder of a novelist squirreled away in Long Island by his sensible, surgeon wife (Emmy® winner Lisa Kudrow) to get cracking on his next novel. Richard isn’t totally alone: along for the ride is a local teen (Emma Stone in a breakout performance) who befriends Richard after he hires her to be a babysitter…his babysitter. Plus, there’s Richard’s imaginary best friend from childhood, Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds), a confidante always ready to prod him along towards adulthood, whether Richard wants it or not. Aching, funny, and true, Paper Man is a genuinely offbeat gem that marks the promising debut of writing and directing team Kieran and Michele Mulroney.
Paper Man 7.0
A pretty plain, but enjoyable, film about a neurotic writer who secludes himself in a small town in order to focus on his sophomore effort.
The whole film hinges on the friendship that develops between the writer and a teenager he becomes fascinated with. It’s all very awkward at first, but the two soon find their groove and start enjoying each other’s company. There is palpable warmth there, but nothing outstanding.
The film is a little bit quirky in that the writer has an imaginary friend/guardian angel who happens to be a superhero. Sadly, this character is played by Ryan Reynolds, who can’t seem to act himself out of a paper pag, but that dynamic was nonetheless remarkably unique because it has existed for well over 40 years.
The teenager also has a close friend and that relationship becomes a bit complicated, in that he follows her everywhere and falls completely in love with her, despite even himself. It’s hard to explain with revealing too much, but these relationships mean that the two main characters lead paralel lives in some fairly original ways.
They also both have difficult love relationships. It’s hardly surprising in either case, as she has abandonment issues, he has all sorts of neuroses and they’re both very lonely people. That part of the story was engaging enough that I wanted to see what would happen to their relationships as well as what would happen to their burgeoning friendship.
The performances were all solid enough, but the best by far was Jeff Daniels, who plays our main protagonist. Emma Stone was decent enough, Kieran Kulkin was very good, Lisa Kudrow was alright, and, as I mentioned previously, Ryan Reynolds was tolerable at best.
I’m not 100% sure if better performances would have elevated this film, but I suspect that it would. For instance, Julianne Moore instead of Lisa Kudrow, Sarah Polley instead of Emma Stone and just about anyone instead of Ryan Reynolds (even Mark Ruffalo would be better, although I think Brandon Routh, Chris Evans or Ben Affleck would fit the bill better).
Anyway, this is the kind of movie I would recommend on a lazy/wet Sunday afternoon. It’s good, but not great; it’s entertaining enough without being a must-see. If you’re looking for something to keep you busy for two hours, you could do worse than ‘Paper Man’.