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Paper Moon

August 8, 2010

Paper Moon is a film that sets itself apart from any other film of or since its time. It takes a standard plot device normally used in screwball comedies, involving the situational mishaps of two strangers stuck with one another, and repackages it in a way that tells the intriguing coming of age story of two misfits. Director Peter Bogdonivich’s style of his then past two films, What’s Up Doc? and The Last Picture Show, makes its way into Paper Moon and effortlessly blends hokey with melodrama. Bogdonivich does an astounding job of creating a contemporary period piece with drama, heart, and humor.

While mourning the death of her deceased mother, a young Addie becomes acquainted with Moses Pray, a charming bible salesman who stops by to pay his respects to the grave. Obviously resembling the child and being one of the few people to have known Addie’s mother, a prostitute, neighbors pressure Moses into taking the now orphaned child to Missouri to stay with an aunt—since he’s traveling the country doing God’s work anyway that is. Moses reluctantly accepts after realizing an opportunity to blackmail the brother of the man responsible for the death of Addie’s mother. Instead of taking a couple of thousand like he intended, Moses settles for $200 enough for a new car, a child’s train ticket to St. Joseph Missouri, and a telegram. Aware of the situation and upset at the swindling of a man who continuously promises her he’s not her father, Addie proposes that either she report Moses to authorities or he pays her back the $200, a difficult task in the Depression-Era Midwest. The two set out on a road trip to Missouri as Moses attempts through grit teeth to pay back the scowling sassy cigarette smoking child. With slicked hair, casual suits, and a plastic smile Moses’ heavenly name helps him sell his bibles to widows mentioned in local obituaries as well as other odd gambling jobs. Convinced Moses is her father, Addie joins him in his scheme taking pleasure in their “family” job and the pair becomes an unlikely team experiencing the highs and lows of criminal life.

The chemistry between real life father and daughter Ryan O’Neil and Tatum O’Neil is captivating as they portray probably the best characters of their careers. Tatum does the most impressive job by taking her first ever role as Addie and capturing the expressions, behaviors, and sentiment of a broken down kid who’s only hope in life is the promises of FDR. Tatum gives Addie multiple layers as a kid who is initially disgusted by Moses’ deceit, yet admires his polished charm, and finds comfort with helping him deal his business. Tatum holds her own in scenes with Ryan and gives Addie the power of an adult as the two argue like a married couple at times.

does what Charles Laughton did with Night of the Hunter and Frank Capra with It Happened One Night and that’s create an self-sufficient dramatic tale against a Depression Era backdrop allowing the theme to subtly and effortlessly play a major part in the film’s narrative. Bogdnavich’s use of alternating camera movements and edits creates a power struggle between Moses and Addie at times with many scenes being shot through extreme low angles contrasted against high ones. Bogdanavich’s camera work fluidly explores the wide empty dusty space of 1930s Midwest while cinematographer Làzlò Kovàcs beautiful creates sharp clean images that still give off a dusty hazy feel. Paper Moon ends with no promises or hope for the future it just reminds viewers of the age old mantra, home is where the heart is.


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