Richard Dunn (Jeff Daniels) is an abortive writer in his 40's. He is unhappily married to Claire (Lisa Kudrow), who spends most of the time away from their home because of work, causing Richard to be left alone, feeling lost and lonely and that he has no purpose in life. He has a really annoying fictional friend in superhero Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds), who dictates his life and who always tells him what to do, and has done so since Richard was a teenager.
When Richard impulsively decides to hire a babysitter (even though he and Claire doesn't have any kids), he meets teenager Abby (Emma Stone), who it turns out is struggling with many of the same problems as himself, as she is friendless and an only child, and also have this imaginary friend (Kieran Culkin) who tries to control her. But as they grow an unlikely and close friendship, they also find hope to get their lives on track. Through laughter, deep conversations, and exchanging of fantasies, they change their lives for both good and bad.
I hesitated when I saw this movie in the local store while I looked on its cover. It said "Paper Man" with a huge picture of Ryan Reynolds in stupid tights and small pictures of Lisa Kudrow, Emma Stone and Jeff Daniels surrounding it. It took a lot of strength for me to pick up the cover at all...
And while they are on with that stupid cover - on the back it said "Jeff Bridges" instead of "Jeff Daniels". I thought: Not very professionally made. And by the way - the first picture on the back shows Daniels riding a grandma's bike. But then again, I am a sucker for friendship stories (which I could barely learn it was from the small synopsis on the back), and I also like Jeff Daniels and Ryan Reynolds - and also Emma Stone - a lot from earlier work. So if these actors agreed to involve, it could not be THAT bad. Ergo, I gave it a chance.
And what a surprise this movie turned out to be! In fact, I was blown away. I got to see a heart warming, intellectual story with great dialog and (for once) REAL emotions flashing out of the screen. The manuscript is the best I've seen in a very long time, and I hope it's not long until these Mulroney's does something new. And the thing about Daniels riding a grandma's bike - that turned out to be one of the film's main trademarks, in a good way.
Jeff Daniels is fantastic as the depressed and lonely, unhappy married man chasing inspiration and answers, whether it is regarding his new book (which he struggles to write, to use an understatement) and his life in general, but who finds hope when he meets Stones character. This is something I, to be honest, can (partly) relate to from my own life experiences, which probably is part of why I liked this as much as I did. Regardless, Daniels was at his very best in this movie.
So, he needs a little push in the right direction. Enter Emma Stone, who plays his female contrast. She is very vulnerable, has no real friends, but a very unsympathetic boyfriend. She is also charming and splendid, and Stone played her role tendering and with such great intensity. Her chemistry with Daniels was surprisingly good, despite the age difference between the two. Stone without doubt did her best performance this far - including the highly overrated "Easy A".
Ryan Reynolds... Well, he is Ryan Reynolds. With his superb comedic presence and, I have to say, boyish charm, he delivers line after line with such timing that you just have to laugh, no matter how stupid some of the jokes are in reality. In other words - he is fantastic and amazingly funny as Daniels' imaginary friend. And the former child star Kieran Culkin as Stones imaginary ditto is about to become an actor of his own, and was a breath of fresh air. The only complain I have is Lisa Kudrow's character, who was dramaturgically necessary, but poorly written. I never quite felt the frustration she must have had with Richard.
I could really not see this coming, but there is nothing like pleasant surprises. And this was definitely one of them. This is the best "dramedy" I've seen since Garden State, and illustrates the importance of having friends you can trust in tough times, and to have a soulmate in your life who just understands you no matter what. I give it a solid 8/10, and it definitely deserves more acknowledgment in my opinion.
(And I also found out: Never judge a movie by its cover...)