Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Movie Review: "Paper Man"

"Paper Man" is the story of one man's decoupaged life as it swings back and forth over the transom between reality and fantasy. Like the concept, the film is a patchwork of potential that never comes together seamlessly.

Jeff Daniels stars as Richard Dunn, a frustrated, failed writer who garrisons himself over the winter in Montauk, Long Island, a locale better known as a summer playground for upwardly mobile New Yorkers. Dropped off by his surgeon wife, Claire (Lisa Kudrow), he's left with nothing but a bad case of writer's block and his imaginary friend, Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds). On an epic mission of procrastination, Richard meets Abby (Emma Stone), a local girl whose sullen spunkiness intrigues him enough to hire her as a baby sitter, despite his lack of children.

The idea of a man who needs a babysitter without the baby is more than a plot point, it's the perfect metaphor for Richard's struggle which is skillfully captured by Daniels' rubbery face and tremendous acting dexterity. Equally compelling is Stone, whose character, haunted by childhood mistakes, shares more with Richard than you might expect. Stone's time on screen is surprisingly masterful and you can't help but wonder how miserable Lindsay Lohan must be now that there's a new redhead, raspy-voiced Lolita in town. The only difference is, Stone can actually act and is magnetic as a girl whose loneliness and sorrow rest on a hair-trigger that goes well beyond teenage angst.

Kudrow is aptly suffocating as the wife who treats her husband more like a charge then the man she vowed to spend her life with and Reynolds, with bleach blonde hair in tights and a cape, is enjoyable as the imaginary childhood friend Richard can't part with, but you wish he'd push it further.

Performance quality isn't the problem with "Paper Man," tone is. Just as the audience feels like they can relax into Richard and Abby’s unlikely, "Lost in Translation"-style friendship, it becomes a film about martial issues. Or is it a film about mental illness? Is it a comedy? A drama? A weepy heart-tugger? Striving to be all of the above, "Paper Man" is an enjoyable film that could have been greater than the sum of its very disjointed parts.

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