Tag Archives: D

PAPER MAN

Grade: D

The title accurately reflects the wafer-thin quality of “Paper Man,” a flimsy character study about a man-child who finally outgrows the crutches he adopted as a kid to survive—in particularly an imaginary friend—and come to terms with adulthood. But the movie, the debut of the husband-wife writing-directing team of Michele and Kieran Mulroney, itself seems a case of arrested artistic development.

Jeff Daniels, mugging even more than usual, plays Richard, a New York author with a deadline looming over him whose cardiologist wife Claire (Lisa Kudrow), a take-charge person, installs him in an isolated Long Island house where he can overcome his writer’s block, stopping in periodically to make sure he’s surviving without her. The change of locale isn’t much help—Richard spends his time in front of the typewriter (an archaic touch) mulling over variations in an opening line about the virtue of solitude. But he’s not really alone—he’s brought along the invisible-to-everyone-else pal who’s accompanied him since childhood, a spandex-clad, caped superhero called Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds), who may be brusque and imperious but is often right in pointing out Richard’s shortcomings.

Despite the captain’s warnings, however, Richard bikes off into town, where he encounters a teen girl, Abby (Emma Stone), who piques his interest. An obviously unhappy kid, she’s bullied by an arrogant boyfriend (Hunter Parrish) and mooned over by a puppy-dog guy (Kieran Culkin). Out of the blue Richard offers her a babysitting job, though there’s no kid to sit. And the bulk of the picture is built around their effect on each other; she brings him out of his shell and he helps her break free of her emotionally abusive b.f. and grow up, too.

There’s the germ of a potentially engaging, and incisive, March-September relationship here (one that’s entirely sexless, incidentally, though the age difference means that there’s a slightly creepy quality to it nonetheless). But the script never manages to make it convincing or enlightening, despite Stone’s strong performance as Abby, which captures both the girl’s rough, often rude manner and her emotional fragility. And a twist at the close concerning Culkin’s mysteriously omnipresent character doesn’t save things.

Even worse, though, is the whole “imaginary friend” aspect of the piece. Though there have been cases where the idea has worked (“Play It Again Sam” is a fine example), it’s basically a tired conceit that more often turns out poorly (just think “Drop Dead Fred”). And here the superhero persona proves a particularly weak link, despite the character’s ability to fly. Simply put, Captain Excellent quickly becomes not just tedious but actually unnecessary to the plot, except as a crutch to the writers as well as the protagonist. And while Reynolds strikes all the right poses, his discomfort with the costume (and the bleach-blond hair) seems to the simmering beneath the surface. Kudrow seems equally ill-at-ease in a really underwritten part.

“Paper Man” has the look of the average independent picture, neither stunning nor ugly, and the score (by Mark McAdam, with additions selected by Robin Urdang) at least avoids becoming the bubbly irritant one hears so often in this sort of whimsical tale. In short, technically it’s as mediocre as it is substantially. It’s a film that wants to get at some relatively profound issues about growing up, but comes off as ephemeral and forgettable as a sheet of paper carried off by a gust of wind. Happily, in this case it’s not much of a loss.

I HATE VALENTINE’S DAY

Anyone who uses a word like “hate” in the title of a movie must have supreme self-confidence. But self-confidence can be misplaced, and that’s certainly the case with Nia Vardalos, whose attempt to replicate the inexplicable success of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” falls flat with “I Hate Valentine’s Day,” which she once again wrote, directed and stars in. Simply put, this is a lousy movie, an indie romantic comedy even worse than most of the bigger-budgeted but almost invariably rotten Hollywood examples of that unhappy genre.

It starts with one of the dumbest premises you’re ever likely to encounter. Genevieve (Vardalos), a gregarious flower-shop owner in a fairy-tale Brooklyn where the weather’s warm and sunny year-round (even in February!), stays happy in her personal life by following a simple (and idiotic) rule. She’ll have no more than five dates with any man, believing that any more than that would turn a joyous, commitment-free encounter into a relationship fraught with problematic entanglements. Foolishly, all her stereotypical neighborhood pals not only accept this dictum but turn to her for advice on dating!

The plot kicks in when Genevieve meets Greg (John Corbett, also returning from “Wedding”), the hunky owner of a nearby store that he’s turning into a tapas bar (the sophistication quotient of the script is suggested by its name—“Get On Tapas”). He’s an erstwhile lawyer who’s abandoned the grind for a less complicated life, and before long he and Genevieve are an item. A crisis arrives with their fourth date: Genevieve stays overnight at Greg’s and they spend the next day together. Greg, aware of her rules, takes that extra day as the fifth date and cuts off further contact. She doesn’t and thinks he’s just dumping her. Even after the confusion is resolved, the big question is whether the two, obviously meant for one another, can get together again.

Many moronic script devices have driven Matthew McConaughey pictures, but surely this is flimsier and stupider than any of them. And it’s worked out with a slavish adherence to formula cliché. Need one add that the supporting characters are all stereotypes, too? There are, for example, Genevieve’s two inevitably gay assistants (Stephen Guarino and Amir Arison), whom she’s nicknamed “Oops” and “Uh-Oh” because they repeat those words whenever they make a mistake (which they do with grinding regularity). And the chubby but lovable deli owner down the street (Mike Starr). All three actors are stuck in wretched roles and don’t transcend them, but even they look good beside Gary Wilmes, playing Greg’s self-absorbed, womanizing best friend Cal, who’s certainly one of the most repulsive characters to grace the screen in years, and whom Wilmes exerts no effort to redeem.

But, of course, the main problem lies in the leads. Vardalos, whom some found winning in “Wedding,” is atrocious here. The part she’s written for herself is terrible anyway—the woman is supposed to be lovable (and beautiful) but comes across as a Lucy Ricardo clone without the charm—but she then compounds the error by awful direction, staging virtually every scene with herself at the center, beautifully lit, as she smiles vacuously barely moving a muscle. Of course, the virtue of that customary immobility is demonstrated in sequences where she’s more animated, like a particularly ghastly one in which she pulls up her skirt in the middle of the street and stretches this way and that with it over her head in to straighten her panties. It doesn’t get much worse than that. Corbett, meanwhile, takes laid-back to new levels. It’s almost as if he were trying to disappear into the background, understandably embarrassed by the script—but if so, his laudable ambition was foiled. You can still see him.

There are a couple of bright moments in the movie, mostly provided by Zoe Kazan as a wimpy girl seeking romantic advice and veteran Jay O. Sanders as some sort of deliveryman who shows up periodically at the flower shop to deliver words of wisdom about marriage. But they’re like drops of water in a desert. “I Hate Valentine’s Day” is technically mediocre, but that’s really a step up from the wretchedness of its content. And so we end with the preordained redundancy: I hate “I Hate Valentine’s Day.”