Title: Paper Moon
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Joe David Brown
Cinematography: László Kovács
Jessie Lee Fulton
Director Peter Bogdanovich breaks off his semi-retirement with a new film SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY screening at this year’s Venice, 13 years after his previous one THE CAT’S MEOW (2001), and PAPER MOON is my second entry into his filmography, after the masterful mother-son dramedy MASK (1985), which is Cher’s career best performance ever.
Shot in Black & White with a nostalgic sheen, the story sets in the depression era, Moses Pray (Ryan O’Neal) is a small-time crook, attends one of his lover’s funeral and ends up bringing her 9-year-old daughter Addie (Tatum O’Neal) on the road, it is another odd-pair road trip and Addie strongly believes Moses is her biological father because they have the same chin. Initially reluctantly taking her with him for fear of hindering his con-artist exploits, Moses surprisingly finds out Addie is a great helper in the game, she is a precocious and cunning doll, with acute perception of the folks and surroundings, moreover, she can meticulously scheme a plot to get what she wants, she would become a much competent con artist than her father figure.
Growing up in the absence of a father figure, Addie is well versed with the savvy of the adult world, her adept cigarette-smoking is dreadful to watch at first glance, but Tatum O’Neal is impeccably phenomenal to nail the scene, ever since the moment when she ingeniously blackmails Moses into taking her with him with the indelible line-delivery “You owe me $200!”, until the very end, her last line “You still owe me $200!”, she has accomplished a remarkable feat as one of the best children performance ever, she is compellingly projecting a wild spectrum of sympathetic qualities resided in a child, our empathy for her is overpowering, much more than for Moses, although Ryan O’Neal is riveting too as a man wandering along with disarming charisma but can never find his roots. This real-life father-daughter pair constitutes a sheer transfixing rapport, particularly whenever Addie surprises him (and viewers too) with her sophisticated volition, she is his guardian angel on certain level, that’s why the coda is so emotive and delightful at the same time, in the film’s own plaintive core, they find each other to stick together on the road.
If there is any justice in the world, Tatum should have nabbed a BEST LEADING ACTRESS trophy instead Oscar’s BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS, which she won, and leaves that to Ms. Kahn. the bone-structure referring, brassy artiste Trixie Delight, a sultry interloper into the pair’s life, against her comical default, Madeline’s telling monologue reveals much deeper into her character’s personality, she is laughable, but also piteous, yet she and Addie cannot co-exist with Moses, so she will be written off in the most farcical manner at the expense of Addie’s carefully plotted trickery and the aid of Trixie’s black teenage assistant Imogene (Johnson).
PAPER MOON doesn’t fall into the victim of time as most oldies pictures, apart from the prominent cast, its top-notch script from Alvin Sargent, based on Joe David Brown’s novel “ADDIE PRAY”, neatly sidesteps from awkward self-pity (especially when dealing with orphans), emotional over-charge (the father-and-daughter affinity) and lame caricature (when Trixie is the easy target to aim). Peter Bogdanovich’s consistent emphasis on the interaction between the odd pair and its eye-pleasing monochromatic cinematography from László Kovács, dotted with a retro soundtrack instead of an obtrusive score, this is THE (almost) perfect film!