Ah, '90s ensemble dramedies. I've seen so many of you, and you are all so similar, that it takes getting through half of one of you before I can tell whether or not I've already seen you specifically. The only way I could have been more confused on this point while watching Ron Howard's The Paper would have been if one of the Three-Name Marys was in it (e.g. Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Mary-Louise Parker, etc., and if you're planning to start a '90s-style alt-rock band, yes, you may call it Three-Name Marys.)
Starring Michael Keaton, Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, Marisa Tomei, Randy Quaid, Jason Alexander, the woman who sort-of sidekicked for Christopher Walken in Nick of Time, and many more familiar faces, The Paper follows one day in the life of a newsman (Keaton) who's on the cusp of a new job at the New York Times-analog "Sentinel," but is having trouble deciding whether or not to leave his scrappy Post-analog "Sun." Subplots abound to further complicate his life for the day, but the main plot involves a murder case and whether the Sun will accuse or exonerate the two innocent young African-Americans who've been arrested—which could affect whether or not race riots erupt in New York.
Thinking too much about The Paper makes it seem worse than it is. It's effective if viewed as a light chase movie—the best parts involve the race to get quotes or photos so that Bitchy Newsroom Rival Lady (Glenn Close in some truly unfortunate hair and outfits) doesn't get her way on the front page. The setup and pacing work well, and the tone of the newsroom is fairly authentic—though I refuse to believe that real newspaper staff meetings are so ebullient.
Characterization is more uneven. Keaton's character is likable, and he's well cast. This helps the film quite a bit, considering how central his character is. But Duvall and Close have subplots that could have been dispensed with entirely, and Tomei—I guess we're supposed to surmise that she's so unreasonable because she's so pregnant. That might have made me feel less uneasy gender-politics-wise if this movie had come out ten years earlier.
As if to remind us that what we're seeing is a product of Hollywood, weird and unrealistic sequences become more frequent later in the film, presumably in an attempt to up the stakes. Examples include Quaid's gun thing in Keaton's office, his fight in the bar, and of course the Keaton/Close wrestling match. Maybe the fact that two of these examples involve Quaid, who let's face it is pretty believable as a nutjob, mitigates the problem somewhat.
Even more Hollywood is the fact that just about everything is wrapped up in a happy little package at the end, and if that were the only objection I had, I'd consider The Paper a success overall; there's nothing wrong with wanting to leave your audience feeling upbeat. But the route taken to get us there is too often contrived and clichéd, and considering the setting, we're left wishing for a little more authenticity. I mean, if all we wanted was a '90s ensemble dramedy that leaves the viewer feeling uplifted, we would've watched, say, Grand Canyon or Sneakers or Parenthood or Reservoir Dogs.
Star Score: 2.5 out of 5