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Case Number 20562: Small Claims Court

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Paper Man

MPI // 2009 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // January 24th, 2011

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All Rise...

Judge Daniel Kelly is pretty sure Iron Man would kick Paper Man's ass.

The Charge

It's grow-up time.

The Case

Paper Man is a patchy film, but when it works, I was genuinely impressed. Directed by Kieran and Michele Mulroney, Paper Man is an overstretched and structurally messy picture, but through some great performances and touching individual sequences it becomes an intermittently engaging effort. Segments of the film do feel unnecessary and repetitive (a tighter grip during the editing process would have been beneficial), but come its conclusion, Paper Man at least departs on a satisfactory and moving note. In a strange sort of a way and purely on its own terms, I'd be willing to class this odd little project as a minor success.

Richard Dunn (Jeff Daniels, Dumb and Dumber) is a struggling novelist isolated in Long Island by his well intentioned wife (Lisa Kudrow, Easy A), so that he might overcome an acute case of writer's block and get on with his next book. However Richard is never truly alone. His imaginary friend Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds, Buried) is always floating around, guiding the troubled intellectual and begging him to grow-up. Richard also forges a bond with a precocious local teen called Abby (Emma Stone, The Rocker), a youngster with her own case of severe mental agitation. Together they find friendship, much to the chagrin of a disapproving outside world.

Jeff Daniels and Emma Stone are both very strong in Paper Man, granting the picture a naturalistic and tangible core via their delightful turns. As a pair they impress, their dynamic fizzling with a sweet but entirely innocent vibe. Watching Stone and Daniels interact is probably the greatest joy Paper Man provides; it's an easy and heartfelt connection, wonderfully helped via some lashings of offbeat comedy. Generally speaking I didn't find Paper Man particularly funny, but the banter between Stone and Daniels can't help but occasionally force a smile. The part of Captain Excellent is ridiculous, and I don't really mean that in a good way. Kieran and Michele Mulroney, who wrote and directed, for the most part try to use the character as straight up comic relief, but Reynolds is handicapped on the back of lame scripting. Toward the end of the movie, Reynolds is given a few dramatic golden nuggets (all of which he nails), but sadly during the first two acts Captain Excellent casts a frustrating shadow. Lisa Kudrow is sincere as Richard's wife, the actress genuinely stretching herself in a part that requires a quietly desperate intensity. For my money she does a fine job.

Paper Man obviously wants to be perceived as quirky indie fare, its most notable offbeat tics are more annoying than pleasing. However there are moments in which the filmmakers boil down the character arcs assuredly, allowing the skilled thespians to bask in both the tragedy and bittersweet happiness the story boasts. I give full credit to the Mulroneys (who also wrote the film) for concocting a batch of unique yet totally likable anxious souls, and for telling the central strand of the picture so well. The whole imaginary friend angle just makes things appear somewhat untidy, but the subtle growth between Abby and Richard is an understated joy to behold. Certainly as the film climaxes audiences will react warmly and sympathetically toward these figures; Paper Man resolving each respective personality's demons in a rather methodical yet tender fashion. In that respect I enjoyed the film a great deal.

The movie's musical score is a lame affair, composer Mark McAdam simply running a loop of twee and generic indie beats for the production's duration. Staining proceedings further is the needlessly bloated runtime (which also adds to the unfocused tone), Paper Man running just short of two hours. There's no way it needed to be such a bulky beast, especially given that only the story's core dynamic really pays off. Still, I would offer this movie a subdued recommendation; certainly if it pops up on TV take a look.

The DVD looks and sounds adequate (but far from sensational), and the only extra feature is a 12 minute featurette that showcases a few quickly staged interviews amidst clips from the movie. It's better than nothing, but fans of the film are liable to want more insight into its creators' minds.

The Verdict

It's a flawed curio more than anything else, but I'm still going to bestow Paper Man with a Not Guilty verdict.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 82

Perp Profile

Studio: MPI
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English (SDH)
• Spanish
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Comedy
• Drama
• Independent

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurette


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• Cinema Verdict Review

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