Paper Man 2009
There are several reasons why I occasional stretch the boundaries of what I consider a “superhero movie”, sometimes it’s because I already decided to watch the film and didn’t want to feel like I had wasted my time on it, other times it gives me an excuse to watch something that’s very much unlike a typical superhero movie. This one falls very much in the latter category even though I knew next to nothing about this film before I put it on aside from the fact that it starred Jeff Daniels and it had Ryan Reynolds playing yet another superhero, albeit an imaginary one. As it started playing, I quickly fell in love with the cast and really enjoyed the rather quirky dramedy about this struggling writer developing a completely non-sexual relationship with a teenage girl played by the always lovely Emma Stone.
Jeff Daniels plays Richard Dunne. He’s essentially a failed person. He’s in a failed marriage where his wife, played by Lisa Kudrow, treats him like a child while she ships him off to this small house in the outskirts of an East Coast fishing town so he can start writing his second book after his first one failed. He’s very much an introvert with no real friends of his own aside from his imaginary friend Captain Excellent played by Ryan Reynolds. For most of the film, Captain Excellent pops up when no one else is around to help give him a quick confidence boost even as he insists to his wife that the Captain is nowhere to be found.
What really works here is the chemistry between Daniels and Stone once they meet for the first time. Initially, it seems like it’s going to head towards inappropriate territory as he convinces her to come over to his house to be a babysitter to a baby which he soon reveals he doesn’t have. But since he hired her, she still agrees to stay while he goes out for the night since that’s what he would have done had he actually needed a babysitter. It’s great because there’s a hint that Stone catches on to what he was playing at and wants to see how far it will go, but during the next shift she goes off on him when he comes back drunk and touchy-feely. The film does a good job during this scene to give the audience the impression that Daniels wasn’t actually coming on to her sexually, but had more of a fatherly love for her that continues to develop throughout the movie. But it also straddles the line that he knows that their relationship appears inappropriate as he hides her presence from his wife even though he constantly invites her over on Fridays when he knows his wife comes by on Saturdays.
Their relationship isn’t entirely one-sided either, when we’re introduced to Stone’s character, we see that she has an emotionally unavailable and callous boyfriend who is only using her for sex and a creepy best friend who follows her around everywhere because he has a crush on her as well. There is a twist around the midpoint of the film after we learn of Stone’s twin sister who died when she was eight where we find out that her creepy best friend is also imaginary, when he has a brief conversation with Reynolds about their tours of duty as it were. It’s also interesting how both of the two characters eventually leave their respective imaginary friends. Daniels has Captain Excellent fly off into the distance, while Stone sees her friend hang himself in her bedroom. The one slight downside is when it’s time for Daniels to leave and say goodbye, the two do share a single kiss that could be a platonic kiss, but it borders on something more romantic. It just felt like a cop out when it could have easily been something more mundane.
Through this relationship with Stone, Daniels also struggles with starting his second book. His character is someone who easily gets hung up on random things that he uses as an excuse to procrastinate in his writing. Instead of using the brand new laptop that his wife bought for him, he insists on using his hipster-but-not-presented-as-hipster typewriter. But what the film uses more than anything else to exemplify this is a hideous couch filled with mismatched pillows in the center of the living room. As he continuously repeats the first line of his book that starts with the ever-changing name of his main character as he “regarded his solitude as something sacred”, he keeps getting distracted by this couch while the film frames him as being trapped within the bars of the outside window. He even takes the couch outside, along with eventually nearly the entire living room set. Not only that, but he orders cases of his failed book and builds a replacement couch out of them. But it’s not until he finally realizes that the name of his book’s main character is his own name that he finally writes the first page of his book which also shows him once again framed within the bars of the window, but this time he’s on the other side of that cage.
Paper Man didn’t really do anything extraordinary, but it was a refreshingly quirky comedy without over-relying on quirk that made me laugh quite a bit. It also made me care about the characters and what happens to them. It has a great cast that doesn’t really have any bad guys aside from Stone’s douche of a boyfriend who simultaneously feels like someone who couldn’t possibly exist, at least from a guy’s perspective, but also quite possibly exactly like someone who does exist, sadly. It was a film that I greatly enjoyed, and my wife came it at one point and liked it so much that I started it over for her and she really enjoyed it as well. There isn’t much superhero in it, but there’s enough for me today. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.