Alright. It’s obvious these two movies are twins.
What’s that? Of course they are? Well yes, but maybe not why you think just from glancing at IMDB. It’s not the genre, it’s not the actors, it’s not the low budgets, or the quirk factor. I mean, yes– it is all of that. But complex themes explored through incredibly flawed characters is what connects these films.
Each carries a unique mix of qualities and while The Answer Man goes toward romantic comedy with the depth but not ache of drama, Paper Man tells you it’s a romantic comedy but has subtle, permeating depth.
In praise of Paper Man, for all it’s waxing it never turns heavy-handed. It’s psychological, sociological, metaphorical and even philosophical but refrains from the depressing blather of existentialism. At least, I thought so. But I fully understand I may be alone in this. The genre blend might be a little odd, the winding road style of story-telling could be offputting to some. But I was really impressed with the choice of characters, the world they chose to tackle. Not just the location, which was its own character, but the topic.
Unlike other indie films, not everything was solved by smoking pot and a good soundtrack. You were left with the sense, that instead of ending with a conclusion, it was ending with a decision. I found that choice to be a very mature one on the part of the writers, they let the characters wrap up their own lives by providing them choices instead of wrapping up the world around them so the choice was a given. And as a viewer, I really appreciated that. It felt genuine. Even in a story clearly more fantastical than realistic, which made it all the more impressive.
The performances were a treat, with Jeff Daniels as Richard and Emma Stone as Abby, all the way down to a solid cameo from Chris Parnell. The crisp directing was pure inspiration. It’s not often two people can work together and create with such an even, exat tone but Kieran and Michele Mulroney managed to do just that. I may be biased as both of these films are about writers, but I found Richard’s struggle to be highly relatable. My favorite line comes from Richard. I’m not sure it was intended to be as funny as I thought it was but I laughed because I understood just what he meant. It’s been bouncing around in my head, just dying to be yelled to someone who would recognize it as a reference. Otherwise, I might sound just as crazy as he does as he shouts: I don’t know what to do with my hands! Brilliant.
Emma Stone is never more likable as a local student with her own complications. It was wonderful to see her character fully developed and not just an afterthought. The best moments of subtly are in her scenes, a pause for a smile or moment of silence to focus on the wash of emotion over her face. The film’s most obvious point, the one on all the posters, has yet to be mentioned here and I think I will refrain from mentioning it at all. It’s too easy to think you know what the film will be like if the subject arises. For the same reason, don’t watch the trailer. Don’t get me wrong, it is funny. But Paper Man manages to provide characters with complex relationships, be strange, memorable, and loveable at the same time. I call that a worthwhile watch.
The Answer Man is also about a writer. An unhappy writer.* It’s witty and funny and also brilliantly directed. If Paper Man was bold, Answer Man is italic. Soft, but used to intimate more. It’s not slow, it’s not a pace, the story is much more of a beat, used for comic effect but also in romantic or touching moments. Touching literally some times, as Lauren Graham plays a chiropractor who enters the life of the titular unhappy recluse once again played by Jeff Daniels.
I like the setup to this movie, it isn’t afraid to mix various styles of comedy with character-driven moments. Once again I highly suggest not reading the synopsis or watching a trailer. I don’t want to go into further analysis as it doesn’t match the style of film to dissect and philosophize too much, but don’t read into that. There is a lot of levity, snappy humor, and charm. You could use 97 minutes of that, couldn’t you?
In both of these stories Jeff Daniels plays a hopeless man who has lost his path and is struggling to get back to a time when he felt he knew what he was doing by using the tools he has and exploring the new relationships he might need. Even more fundamentally, Paper Man talks about growing up and moving on while The Answer Man suggests sometimes the answer to life’s questions is having a life. Maybe that’s why these two films have been rattling around in my brain, why they stuck with me. And why I’m recommending them. Don’t be put off by the R rating of these films. I’m sure there’s a reason but as far as the storylines go, you’re good and so are they.
*Please leave a comment if you can think of a movie with a happy writer.