Thursday, April 21, 2011

Paper Man - Blu-ray Review



PAPER MAN



Paper Man [Instant Video Rental] - Amazon price $3.99

Blu-ray/DVD Release Date: January 18, 2011

I find it to be a really sad state of affairs when a film is released that has clearly been a labor of love for everyone involved in its production and then when it finally gets released hardly anyone even knows it exists. The blow is even harder when the film in question is filled with talented actors all bringing their A-game along with a very touching story as well. Paper Man is just such a film and I am more than happy to enlighten those that may have missed out on seeing it.


Review Vital Stats:
Format: Blu-ray
Player: LG Model 370 
Monitor: Samsung 40' LCD Series 5
Picture Quality: 1080p
Sound Quality: True HD - English

Biases:
Loves: Jeff Daniels, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, stories about loss and loneliness
Likes: Independent films of all types
Neutral: Lisa Kudrow
Hates: Nothing actually
5 Years: Was how long it took for this film to get made


Independent films are a strange beast sometimes. It seems that every year one or two films breakout of that tiny niche and make it big like last years big winner The Kids Are All Right. But then you always have the other ones that are often just as good if not more so that fail to crack that shell they are stuck in like the critically acclaimed yet unseen Buried or Jack Goes Boating from last year. Both amazing films that didn't get the recognition they deserved. Paper Man is yet another one to add to that list of fantastic films from the independent world. I am not gonna lie though, the only thing that caught my eye at first was the cast. I usually try to avoid the trap of seeing films ONLY because of who plays in them. While the actor is an essential piece to a film working there are many other aspects that lend themselves to the art that mustn't be overlooked. But this time that gamble paid off in spades. Paper Man may have slipped through the cracks but that doesn't change the fact that it is one of the best films and human dramas of last year.

Richard Dunn (Jeff Daniels) is a writer...at least he is trying to be. Among many other peculiarities about him he seems to have caught a bad case of writers block while attempting to begin his new novel. To help clear his head and give him a fresh start his wife Claire (Lisa Kudrow) has set him up in this quaint little vacation home in a small community on Long Island. While her job as a medical doctor has her away for most of the time she leaves Richard there alone to ponder over his next great story. Although he isn't really alone, he has a very special and close childhood friend that continually shows up to help him out when needed and protect him from any and all threats. That friend is none other than Captain Excellent! (Ryan Reynolds), an imaginary friend from when he was a kid that has never left his side for better or worse. The Captain is there to reassure him that everything is going to be alright just like he did when he was little.

Captain Excellent is coming out of the closet it seems.

Richard knows that Captain Excellent is an imaginary friend and that his presence isn't exactly helping but the problem is that Richard doesn't really have any friends and the Captain is the closest thing he has ever had to one. That is until one day while on a trip into the local town he meets (or stalks) this mysterious and slightly closed off young teenage girl named Abby (Emma Stone). Hungry for company from a real life person while his wife is away he hires Abby to come over to his place and babysit. The problem is of course that there is no baby to sit but with Abby being a kind of freewheeling type of gal (and having some hidden issues of her own) she decides to house sit for him while he proceeds to go out every Friday night and tries to figure out what exactly his book is supposed to be about. Over the course of the next few weeks Richard and Abby begin to form a very unlikely friendship and as each week passes by the two of them begin to confide in one another about their past and present lives in the hopes that they are the friend each has always been looking for.

I think that given the title of the film combined with the imagery of Ryan Reynolds all dressed up in that super hero costume that most people might be a little confused as to what this film actually is. It is not a super hero film, it is barely even a comedy other than the few moments of levity here and there. This is a film about a very lonely man that has been in a marriage with a woman that is not only much smarter than him but in his eyes also much more useful. He is overly obsessed with using his hands for something, anything that will make him feel as though he has contributed something to the world. Richard is constantly filled with the need to find someway to provide something that he himself has made, be it a simple cooked meal or an origami figure. His first book was a step in the right direction but with it being an all around failure he has lost both the nerve and will to even begin his next project. He spends most of his days sitting at his old school type writer trying to come up with a name for his protagonist but even with the assistance of Captain Excellent he just can't seem to come up with anything worthwhile.

Claire helps Richard out with his dinner.

His wife Claire, while a seemingly very kind and patient woman, has almost abandoned him at his secluded Long Island home. We don't ever really see them interact much other than a few scenes of them eating dinner when she comes in for her weekend visits. But we get the sense that this is a last ditch effort on her part to get Richard back on the horse and most importantly to get rid of Captain Excellent once and for all. Captain Excellent is not just his imaginary friend but also a representation of his unwillingness to grow up and act like an adult. It isn't that Richard can't take care of himself (although he isn't a very accomplished chef it seems) but more like he doesn't want to accept the responsibilities of adulthood. He spends most of his time at his home doing strange things like moving all the furniture outside or creating new furniture out of books. With Claire being a surgeon they really have no money problems and Richard has apparently just been coasting by as she provides for the both of them.

Richard knows that he needs to get his act together. His inability to start his new book is inter-connected with his inability to let go of Captain Excellent (even the Captain wants to leave). He is at a crossroads and doesn't know how to proceed and that is why his new found friendship with Abby becomes such a pivotal decision at this critical juncture in his life. Richard has never had a real friend, Captain Excellent only tells him what he wants to hear because he is just a manifestation of his own psyche and his wife always seems to baby him or treat him like a child. So when he first sees Abby he is immediately intrigued by her and wastes no time and trying to get to know her. Abby seems like a fairly bright girl and knows there is something off about Richard. The way their relationship begins with him lying to her is just about as wrong as one can imagine. But the reason that Richard so easily convinces her to stick around though despite all of his stalkerish antics and his lies is because unbeknownst to him she too is looking for someone that she can just be herself around. Someone that treats her well and with some form of respect.

Abby finds a soulmate in Richard and someone she can confide in.

Abby's hometown is more of a summer vacation spot and with it being the middle of winter there isn't much of a community to speak of. She has a vaguely stalker like friend named Kristopher (Kieran Culkin) who constantly professes his love to her and a abusive boyfriend named Bryce (Hunter Parrish) whom she constantly refers to as Chicken Shit. Her family life is shrouded in mystery to both Richard and us but it is readily apparent that there is some sort of pain she is trying to deal with beneath that happy go lucky exterior. So when Richard tells her there is no baby to watch she sticks around regardless because she finds him to be a funny and interesting guy, something in very short supply in her town.The bond the two of them make is one of those life altering ones where regardless of where they end up at the end of the story they will always have a connection to one another.

Their budding friendship is the basis for the entire film and how the two are able to find a piece of themselves in each other that they just couldn't find in those close to them. Abby's first night "babysitting" for Richard is where she completely wins him over by cooking a very simple looking dish of soup for him. Richard, being a man that finds himself to be useless when it comes to creating things with his hands, is blown away by her talents. He begins praising her for what she considers to be very mundane tasks. Richard has found someone that not only accepts him for who he is but also someone that begins to rely on him. His wife always took care of him but never treated him like an equal as Abby does. In return Abby finds solace in the company of Richard, mostly due to her tattered family history that has left her on her own with no father figure to latch on to. Richard becomes the father she never had and Abby becomes the child Richard never had. Together they find a sort of peace that neither had ever had up until they met. Their relationship is very much a symbiotic one and it became one of the warmest and sweetest pairings I had seen in quite a while.

Captain Excellent senses danger!

As I mentioned earlier the casting was what initially caught my interest and no one disappointed. Jeff Daniels has always had a certain charm to his silly and boyish nature. He gives Richard a vulnerability and sadness that is unmistakable and very heartfelt. Those moments of self reflection he has are very hurtful to watch but he always bounces back with a glow and energy that lights up the room. He is an actor that never really made much of an impact over his career as far as stand out roles or films but I thought he hit it out of the park here with his portrayal of a man that is afraid of being the last of his blood line and ending his family's legacy forever.

His skill as an actor is equally matched by that of Emma Stone in what I believe to be her best performance to date. Her first lead role in last years Easy A showed that she definitely had a commanding presence on screen but it was ultimately a teen comedy with her being as cute, adorable and witty as she could be (honestly she doesn't have to try hard on any of those accounts though). But here she was given a character in Abby where she was saddled with a lot of pain and anguish to deal with. Her life has been filled with nothing but heartbreak and when the facts about her history come to light...well let me just say that she wasn't the only one that started to emote. What made it all gel for me was the chemistry between both Daniels and Stone, there is something fairly taboo about their relationship but even knowing what they were doing was a little strange I still wanted them to stick it out for as long as they could so that they could continue to be happy.

Yes, that is a couch made entirely of books.

Everyone else involved did fine jobs as well. Ryan Reynolds had a very odd character to play and one that ultimately didn't really have much revelance compared to the emotional journey that Richard and Abby go on. He has always been good at adding humor to serious situations though and used that skill to great effect here. Lisa Kudrow has never really been a favorite of mine. She has certainly been involved in some great films but I never understood the fascination with her as an actress. She definitely gave it her all here and I gotta admit that I felt a lot of the hurt that her character was going through mainly due to Kudrow's performance. The entire cast overall did an amazing job with the two leads bringing in powerful and touching performances that completely won me over.

I could find no fault with the film either. I am sure there are those that may not make the same connection to the characters that I did (loneliness is a well covered topic of mine) and they will probably not find it's message as transcendant as I did. The acting was superb, the story was well told with characters that felt real and it never fell into the trap that many films dealing with loss do which is to have everyone be perfect people by the end. I appreciated the fact that the filmmakers went for the more realistic route with the film's outcome. While the film most definitely ended, you got the sense that the lives of both Richard and Abby were finally just beginning.  This is a great film that anyone who has ever felt lonely or experienced a tragic loss in their lives must see. And if you don't fit that bill then I would suggest you still seek it out anyway because it is just a great film in general.


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Paper men for a paper man.

What's on the disc?

On the one hand this is an independent film and we usually don't get a whole lot in the way of features for such films. But on the other it is apparent that not only the filmmakers had a personal attachment to the material but actors such as Ryan Reynolds had been with them all the years it took to get the project off the ground and rolling. So in that respect I was a little surprised at how little effort was put into the set of features for what took up many people's lives for almost 5 years. What is here is decent but very underwhelming.

Making Of Featurette (12:40 min) HD - I guess I should be happy that this behind the scenes look at the production of the film was any good at all. It certainly doesn't make up for the lack of a commentary track but at least it covers all the basics in its short run time. It is worth a watch for anyone interested in how the actors and filmmakers felt about working on the film.

Extended & Deleted Scenes (6:24 min) HD - A collection of assorted deleted or extended scenes that seem to have been cut for good reason. None of them are bad per say but very unnecessary. There were a couple scenes dealing with Richard and dead animals as well as some extended scenes with Captain Excellent being...excellent. I'm glad they were included here though.

Trailer (2:24 min) HD - The theatrical trailer for the film.

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Captain Excellent tries to help whenever he can.

Final Verdict:

Paper Man is just a very moving story of two people at different points in their lives, both mentally and physically, that come together and fill in the gaps that needed filling. It is chalk full of great performances from some very talented actors and despite dealing with some slightly tear-jerker material it will leave you with a big smile and a warmed heart when it is all over. The audio and picture quality for the Blu-ray are what anyone would expect from a film such as this, in other words it is good. The extra features leave a lot to be desired and given the amount of effort that everyone put into its production seems to be very lacking. This recommendation comes based solely on the film itself when I say that you should definitely...


Movie   -  A
Video   -  B+
Audio   -  B+
Extras  -  D+

BUY IT



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