On the verge of separation from his wife and crippled by harrowing writer's block, Richard Dunn (Jeff Daniels) settles himself into a friend's summer cottage to work on his second novel. His only companion is Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds), a Superman-like superhero who exists only in Richard's mind. Solitude doesn't seem to do the trick, however, and he soon finds himself looking for ways to procrastinate. On a trip into town, he meets and befriends Abby (Emma Stone), a local teenager with a haunted past and only one real friend, a strange boy named Christopher (Kieran Culkin). The two become an unlikely pair and begin to spend more time with each other against the advice of both Captain Excellent and Christopher. Soon Richard is forced to question his life, his relationships, and his profession.
This is a difficult movie to sum up. In essence, "Paper Man" is all about relationships and human interaction, though that may seem difficult to comprehend given that one of the characters is a figment of another's imagination. And yet the interconnecting relationships of Richard and Excellent, Abby and Christopher, and Richard and Abby serve as an illustration of human needs and co-dependence. None of the main characters are complete persons and as such, each needs the other. Directors Kieran and Michele Mulroney give us carefully crafted, well-honed characters that rarely stray from their tendencies as they grow together and therefore, apart. Likewise, all of the leads give outstanding performances and fit their roles perfectly. Daniels and Stone display a natural chemistry that embraces the oddness of their relationship. For perhaps the first time ever, Richard and Abby are allowed to be themselves in each other's company and that comes through beautifully. Stone, in particular, is perhaps more vulnerable and authentic here than in any other movie she's been a part of. Only Lisa Kudrow feels out of place as Richard's overachieving wife, a one-dimensional character who at times fits a tired cliché than she does embrace real humanity. That's more than a bit of a disappointment given than none of the other characters or their interactions stray into the cliché abyss. "Paper Man" is quirky and original with dark overtones that give it depth and edge and a tremendous collection of talent that doesn't go to waste. Quite frankly, I loved this movie and found myself drawn to it with more intensity than just about any film I've seen recently.