Paper Man

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A middle-aged man who still talks to his imaginary friend housesits and spirals out of control before getting some perspective on life.

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Kieran & Michele Mulroney, 2009

Ugh, this movie was so…unbearably pointedly indie. It had a big flashing sign above it saying SUPPORT ME, I’M INDIE! The music, the location, the clothes, the dialogue, the awkward….everything screamed hipster indie cool so much that I didn’t find it cool at all. There appear to be some serious supporters out there, but I just wanted to smack Jeff Daniels across the face and be done with it.

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Support us, we’re the stars of an independant movie!

This guy was pretty much the epitome of first world problems. He doesn’t appear to have a mental illness – there were symptoms of depression, but instead of seeking help from people who actually cared about and supported him he was rude as fuck and sought awkward hipster friendship with a traumatised 17-year-old girl (Emma Stone, flawless as usual). He fixates and whines and then somewhere towards the end everybody gets mad so…he magically cleans up his act. Which, huh? Talk about wrapping things up in a neat little bow. Since the catalyst seemed to just be his wife (Lisa Kudrow, also turning in a great performance) yelling at him to clean up his act, it seems unlikely that any kind of genuine mental illness was at play. Just general boring melancholy. Kieran Culkin as an emo kid puts in a pretty good performance too, so it’s not that the acting’s bad, just that I feel their talents could be better spent.

Here’s the thing: I’ve never understood this kind of movie. This trope – two lonely people (an old white guy and a hot young white girl) form an unlikely friendship because they both feel adrift and cut off from the world – is indie-done-to-death. The best example I can think of is Lost in Translation, which has the Japanese setting and sense of otherworldliness (and Bill Murray, far superior to Jeff Daniels) to set it apart, but Ghost World falls into the same category, and I literally couldn’t make it through that one. Ghost World is more from the girl’s point of view, but it’s also the most pretentious of the three films and holds the least interest visually for me. I’m sure there are other examples that you, fair readers, can think of but don’t immediately spring to mind for me.

A couple of things, along with the solid performances mentioned above, set this film apart: the imaginary friend angle, which brings an unexpectedly sweet moment of clarity but is weirdly largely ignored. Ryan Reynolds (as the bleached-blond guyliner-wearing Captain Excellent, perhaps his greatest superhero role to date) is possibly the most affecting and amusing characters, but every one of his warnings falls on deaf ears, which makes you wonder why he’s there in the first place. The location actually is pretty great, even if it is super indie – cold beaches are always lovely backdrops for melancholy scenes. I just wish most of those scenes weren’t so awkward and tryhard.

Paper Man on IMDb

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