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Paper Man


Something nobody wants is loneliness. We spend our lives making networks of friends to avoid spending most of our time in solitude. Richard Dunn (Jeff Daniels) is a socially inept, struggling writer being sent to a cabin in Long Island by his supportive, yet exasperated wife Claire (Lisa Kudrow) in the indie dramedy Paper Man.

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Their marriage has clearly hit a rough patch and Claire is at her wit’s end with her neurotic husband.  He is incapable of starting his second book (the first was a failure) and always brings along his imaginary (only) friend, Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds). Claire visits on the weekends in attempts to rekindle their love, but usually leaves disappointed. While at the cabin, Richard develops a relationship with an equally lonely teenager named Abby (Emma Stone).

As the film progresses we learn more about Abby’s history and the different levels of Richard’s ineptitude. Luckily, Richard’s motives are never questioned. He simply wants a companion since his wife more or less exiled him to the woods. This allows Daniels and Stone to have a wonderful chemistry. His awkward charm works well with her confident keenness. Initially, Stone seems to be reprising her typical role of snarky, too-smart-for-her-own-good teenager. This shell is discarded once Abby begins to trust Richard and we get to learn what really caused her diminished self-esteem and general malaise. Abby’s story may get more depressing as she gets closer to Richard, but Stone is always up to the task and shows real grit reaching for Abby’s despair.

Daniels is charged with the task of using his youthful persona and adding a hint of adult frustration. Richard is incapable of fully maturing and accepting responsibility (so much so that you wonder how he married a successful doctor). This becomes a flaw in the film because we never fully learn what stunted Richard’s maturation and caused such a crippling loneliness to take root in him. He has never let go of Captain Excellent, which causes his real relationships to deteriorate. Reynolds does well to mix the stereotypical superhero with an emotional being. Captain Excellent may be a figment of Richard’s imagination, but he has a mind of his own and is developed into a living, breathing character, with whom the audience can sympathize.

The one constant bothersome feature of Paper Man is Christopher (Kieran Culkin), Abby’s only friend. He is madly in love with Abby and follows her like a lost puppy. In due fairness, Culkin is not given much leeway with regards to creating a worthy character out of Christopher. Fortunately, his screen time is limited due to circumstances discovered near the end of the film.

Ultimately, Paper Man is about shedding the mistakes of our pasts that weigh us down and prevent personal growth. Richard and Abby bond over their loneliness and aid each other in moving forward with their lives. The film is depressing with just a hint of hopeful optimism. Man is one of those films that never truly accelerates, but keeps you involved throughout.

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