Paper Moon folds its wholesome bribery into an exquisitely simplistic origami comedy. The severe worldwide economic decline of the 30s, most popularly known as “The Great Depression”, resulted in thousands of individuals bargaining and bribing their way to earning a living. Money was a rarity. Businesses collapsed. Streets were deserted. For sophisticated con man Moses Pray, whom ironically preyed on vulnerable widows into purchasing a personalised bible, lack of funds was the least of his newfound problems. When visiting a funeral procession to pay his respects to nine-year-old Addie’s mother, whom is now suspected as her father based on facial similarities (although persistently denies that supposed fantasy), he agrees to deliver the orphan to her aunt’s house cross state in Missouri. The foreboding road trip ahead however, would challenge both individuals in monetary mentality and superfluous guardianship.
Bogdanovich’s adaptation of Brown’s character-titled ‘Addie Pray’, may not illicit a multitude of profound themes, but confidently illustrates the camaraderie between juxtaposing generations through engaging humour. First and foremost, it’s a comedic road-trip feature. Bogdanovich rarely veers from the intended destination. Addie, with her astonishingly mature sensibilities, consistently gaining the upper hand in her “business relationship” with Moses, by initially demanding two-hundred dollars and possessing improved sleight-of-hand trickery to capitalise on stealing money. Her acute attention to people, environments and situations allows her to strongly adapt to each scenario and reap in the biggest reward possible without raising awareness to policing forces. Her natural talent heavily implies Moses’ potentiality as her father, given he is also well-equipped with deception and subterfuge. Yet Sargent’s stupendously heartwarming screenplay avoids this arc as the central plot point, instead opting for an exploration in the differing maturities of Addie and “Moze”. Addie smoking cigarettes whilst tucked up in bed, although regrettably an action that has not aged well in the slightest, and Moze hypnotised by the “exotic dancer” Miss Trixie Delight. Intelligently, this rampart contrast produced a fast-moving pace that even a Model 68 convertible could not overtake.
Paper Moon, at its core, is superfluous. Yet it’s with this one-dimensionality that Sargent’s humorous dialogue decorates its characters with nutritious strength, marking it as a superlative screenplay that sits among the best ever written. The introductory café exchange cements this notion by outlining the plot’s calculative business repetition whilst embedding characterised dominance between both individuals that conjures the required hilarity. It never lets go. Bogdanovich’s honest approach creating an affecting portrait of poverty-stricken America simultaneously.
Undoubtedly, the real-life pairing of Ryan and Tatum O’Neal perpetuated the onscreen chemistry to incalculable heights, particularly with their interactions. A connection that may not have been possible from two differing actors. Tatum’s extraordinary young performance, which garnered her the youngest recipient of the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award, was nothing short of exceptional. From the smart quips to the expressionistic facial movements. She unequivocally matched her father’s performance, whom was equally as flawless with his stern yet friendly characteristics. Kovács’ monochromatic cinematography, accentuating the bleak outlook of “The Great Depression”, paid tribute to features of the 30s and 40s. Extensive uninterrupted dialogue exchanges and unwrinkled tracking shots of automobiles driving across the barren countryside.
These empty environments may identify with the plot’s overall simplicity, however that should not detract from Paper Moon’s effectiveness as an entertaining mismatched road-trip comedy. For what it lacks in profoundness, Sargent’s delightful screenplay makes up for in joyous enjoyability. Watching a real father and daughter connect through a cinematic experience, transforming this apparent thinly constructed moon into a bright sunny day.