Why do people suffering from writer’s block resort to solitude? Haven’t they seen The Shining? Whether or not it seems like a bright idea at the start, eventually you’ll lose it and attack your loved ones. Okay, maybe you won’t exactly end up wielding an axe, but peace and quiet can only take you so far. Paper Man is the offspring a husband and wife writing-directing team’s trouble putting pen to paper. Unhappy working inside Hollywood’s big studio system, Michele and Kieran Mulrooney chose to ditch the corporate world and focus on independent projects. It worked and the result is Paper Man.
Richard Dunn (Jeff Daniels) has some major issues. Not only was his first novel a flop, but he’s suffering from a serious case of writer’s block, his marriage is on the rocks and oh yeah, he has an imaginary friend named Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds). In an effort to give him a fresh start Richard’s wife, Claire (Lisa Kudrow), drives him out to a rented house in Sag Harbor. They spend the weekends together, but soon Claire returns to her surgical work at New York’ Presbyterian Hospital while Richard remains out east trying to develop his second novel, a piece with a connection to an extinct animal, the Heath Hen.
Dunn’s writer’s block could easily consume the audience had it not been for one of Paper Man’s more colorful characters, literally. Reynolds’ portrayal of the blond and buff Captain Excellent won’t do much to convince you he’ll make a good Green Lantern, but his eccentric work makes for the perfect distraction until you grow to love the curious and often unlikable Richard. He’s downright strange, doesn’t seem to appreciate his loving wife and has a frustratingly difficult time figuring out who ‘regarded his solitude.’
Thankfully, in comes Emma Stone as Abby to establish the kind of connection with the audience which Daniels’ character depends on. When a carless Richard rides a tiny red bike into town, the two have an unusual encounter resulting in Richard asking Abby to babysit. Confused? You should be. Richard has no child and ultimately has to break that news to Abby when she comes over. She finds the revelation strange, but her infatuation with Richard takes over and an unlikely relationship begins.
Stone, Daniels, Reynolds and a smart twist make Paper Man worthwhile. Stone and Daniels are as raw as they com. After being all done up in nearly every film she’s been in, seeing Emma sans heavy black eyeliner makes a major difference. Not only does her fresh look scream authenticity but her performance does too. At first, her relationship with Daniels is clearly inappropriate, but it develops into something oddly relatable.
The same goes for relationship between Richard and Captain Excellent. There’s obviously something wrong with an older man having an imaginary friend, but Richard’s dependence on his super pal is necessary. Even amidst their endless banter and Richard’s refusal to accept the Captain’s better judgment, Richard finds comfort in him and you genuinely want Richard to have a sense of calm in his life. A similar connection exists between Abby and her friend Christopher (Kieran Culkin). Abby’s boyfriend Bryce (Hunter Parrish) drives Christopher crazy for two reasons; one, he treats her like garbage and two, Christopher loves Abby. The problem is, Abby doesn’t have the urge to return that sentiment. They don’t share an equivalent bond of dependence, but Abby’s unspoken reliance on Christopher is essential causing a yearning to see her embrace him.
Brilliant editing keeps the film moving at a perfect pace. Potentially dull material is kept at a steady beat with abrupt yet subtle cuts easing you from scene to scene. Enhancing the effects is noticeably unique cinematography as Eigil Bryld uses typical camera parlor tricks like foreground to background focus swaps effectively, permitting the actors to excel even more so than they do on their own. All of Paper Man’s assets culminate in a beautifully unexpected twist.
Unfortunately, rather than bring the audience down gently, concluding the tale, Paper Man dribbles on for the final portion of the film. You may be sure a fade to black is on its way, but no, there’s more and this happens so many times that concern for the characters is lost amidst all the waiting for an ending. It’s really a shame because up until this point Paper Man is a sweet, uniquely humorous, simple film. It remains charming and peculiarly funny, but the loss of that original simplicity dampens the experience. Regardless, Paper Man is worth your time, if not for the film in its entirety, then for Stone and Daniels alone.