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Case Number 18982: Small Claims Court

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Paper Covers Rock

MPI // 2008 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // May 27th, 2010

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All Rise...

Brendan Babish has always wondered why paper can't cover scissors as well?

The Charge

Lives—and depression—sometimes have a way of making their own rules.

The Case

Paper Covers Rock is written, directed, and produced by Joe Maggio. It's not surprising, then, that it's an intimate and seemingly personal film. That is to say, it's light on narrative and instead largely meditates on a single aspect of the human condition: depression. Paper Covers Rock embodies this affliction with a lethargic, almost soporific, pacing, but its able cast and skilled writer/director/producer manage to create a film that will likely resonate with anyone who has ever found themselves paralyzed by melancholia.

The movie opens with a young girl getting herself ready for school. After she is dressed and ready to leave she discovers her mother, Sam (Jeannine Kaspar, Nip/Tuck), has tried to kill herself by tying a bag around her head. Flash forward to Sam's release from a mental hospital. Without a job or money, she moves in with her controlling sister, Ed (Sayra Player, Duane Hopwood), who lets her crash on the couch and gets her a job as a late-night janitor at her office. At the office she catches the eye of Brian (Mark Alhadeff), a kooky corporate guy who pursues her romantically. At the same time, while Sam slowly emerges from her cloud of self-loathing, she realizes she wants her daughter back, and embarks on a battle with the girl's father to see her again.

Paper Covers Rock's biggest asset is the engaging performance of its lead, Kaspar. The film provides little insight into Sam's depression, so our engagement with the story is entirely dependent on Kaspar's ability to make us empathize while withholding the specifics of her malaise. This withholding is actually one of the film's assets. Depression doesn't always have rhymes or reasons, and is sometimes all the more heartbreaking when there seems to be no discernable, solvable cause. When Kasper sloughs around her sister's apartment or an empty office building at night, she underplays the character's desperation with the perfect amount of restraint. This does seem like someone whose life has sunk into an endless torpor, and watching her sleep on a oddly shaped IKEA futon and clean out garbage bins in ill-fitting sweaters is endearing, heartbreaking, and occasionally compelling.

Unfortunately, Paper Covers Rock does not build a compelling plot on top of this character. Sam's relatively banal squabbles with her sister and purchase of a bicycle may be defining moments of her life post-incarceration, but they are not captivating drama. Her quasi-romance with Brian is a little too kooky, and yet also understated, for a bleak drama. Even the movie's most substantial subplot, an attempted mother-daughter reconciliation, is diluted by Sam's myriad other trials and tribulations.

Still, Paper Covers Rock is an emotionally deft and well-acted movie. It is deliberately slow and subtle, but certainly rewarding—especially for those who can relate with the protagonist.

Papers Covers Rock is a digital film shot on what seems to be a shoestring budget. Not surprisingly, then, the colors are a little muted and the picture a little fuzzy. The soundtrack is adequate, though unimpressive, but who would expect to be blown away by a quiet, dialogue-heavy film limited to the front speakers?

There are also two minor extras here: a featurette with the movie's composer and another with the cast. Unfortunately, writer/director/producer Maggio is MIA.

The Verdict

Taking pity on the client, I rule not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: MPI
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (SDH)
• Spanish
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Drama
• Independent

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurettes


• IMDb

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