Paper Man (2009)

Posted on February 25, 2015


Richard Dunn (Jeff Daniels) has writer’s block. His wife, Claire (Lisa Kudrow), drops him at a cottage on Long Island to be alone and write. When he goes into town for supplies, he sees a teenager start a fire in a garbage can. He puts out the fire and gets talking with her. Her name is Abby (Emma Stone). Now, if Richard could just get his imaginary friend Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds) to shut up, he might get something written.

No images this week. I wish indie films released movie posters as free-to-use images, but that’s life.

Short Version

Heartfelt, with strong performances and good structure.


Long Version

Richard Dunn is a character in a context with a conflict. He’s a middle-aged man married to a successful doctor. He’s a writer, with several novels already published. Like most writers I know, he’s not entirely satisfied with any of them. When the movie starts, he thinks his greatest desire is to be alone, and his greatest fear is that he will never write another book.

Jeff Daniels does a good job of taking us on Richard’s emotional journey. He says he wants to be alone, to the point of considering divorcing Claire. His anxiety about writing is a spiral. He’s afraid what he writes will suck, so he can’t start writing, which upsets him, and it goes around.

Captain Excellent is no help. He’s not even sure why Richard keeps him around. Richard doesn’t listen to him. He’s imaginary, so he has no experience or insight of his own. Richard is so conflicted that Captain Excellent can’t act as an outside voice, reminding Richard of insights he already has.

Abby has her own story. She’s lost. She saw her mother commit suicide years ago, and doesn’t know what to do with her life. Richard doesn’t treat her like a bimbo or a sex toy. He listens to her. He appreciates the little things that she does, like make soup from scratch.

Together, they take us along on their emotional journeys.

Richard discovers that he needs to grow up and accept that he needs other people. We know he does. We’ve seen him draw in Abby. We’ve also seen him talking with fellow drinkers in local bars. He talks with Captain Excellent. It just takes him time to admit it to himself.

Once he does, he can write again. He writes something short for Abby, and it helps her crystalize her loss and her guilt about being unable to save her mother. She can finally let go.

There’s also a twist involving Captain Excellent and another character that I can’t name, or it will ruin the surprise for you.


Paper Man uses imaginary friends both as literal characters and as metaphors. It does so skillfully, and enjoyably. I recommend it.

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Posted in: Movies