Review: Paper Moon (1973)

Paper Moon


Peter Bogdanovich
Alvin Sargent (Novel: Joe David Brown)
102 min.
Ryan O’Neal, Tatum O’Neal, Madeline Kahn, JOhn Hillerman, P.J. Johnson, Jessie Lee Fulton, Randy Quaid
MPAA Rating

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Source Material

In 1973, an old-fashioned black-and-white film was not a common sight, Hollywood having long given up on the medium as an effective box office draw. Set during the Great Depression, Paper Moon tells the story of a common grifter (Ryan O’Neal) paying his respects to the woman who may or may not have sired his child who agrees to deliver the little girl (Tatum O’Neal) to her closest relatives in St. Joseph, Missouri, but ending up in a series of successful cons along the way and developing a familial relationship seldom reserved for people who can’t admit their even related.

A couple of important characters wander into Moses and Addie’s adventures, but the film has very little to do with them and remains solely a tale about their delicate relationship that teeters on father-and-daughter quality without adopting the name. Ryan and Tatum, as you may have guessed or already knew, are father and daughter in real life and that fact helps flavor their working dynamic in a positive and intriguing way. Tatum shows early promise as an actress, outperforming most other child actors. Her early scenes are a bit rough, but once she gets going, there’s no stopping her. Ryan, who got his start in television at the age of 19, may have been at the peak of his career with the release of Paper Moon. His roguish charm is perfect for the character and the result, paired with his daughter, is a strong co-lead dynamic unfairly categorized as lead-support at the Oscars resulting in Tatum earning an Academy Award, unfairly shunted to the category because she was only 10 at the time.

The film itself works on a number of levels, but most of them are due to the relationship between Ryan and Tatum. Some scenes feel a bit contrived (the con against the sheriff’s brother a perfect example), but the movie ends on a fairly perfect note, tonally and emotionally.
Review Written
October 11, 2010

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