Paper Moon Movie Review
Tatum O'Neal's celebrated (and Oscar-winning) turn as the daughter of a traveling grifter (played by dad Ryan O'Neal) is reason number one to watch the film, but dad's not too shabby, either. Their story is a pretty simple one: Con man Moses (Ryan) finds himself the sole caretaker of otherwise orphaned daughter Addie (Tatum). He can't pawn her off, but soon finds her pulling her own weight as she helps size up rubes as part of his scam: selling "deluxe" Bibles to the widows of the recently deceased. Eventually dad and daughter move on to bigger crimes and more amusing hijinks, including a stint with dad falling for a bawdy lounge singer (Madeline Kahn) and the duo nearly getting busted for bootlegging whisky.
Shot in high-contrast black and white, director Peter Bogdanovich (he made this film following The Last Picture Show) crafts a gorgeous look at the dusty midwest that rivals the same era's appearance in The Grapes of Wrath. The dialogue is snappy, reminiscent of a peppery comedian's patter, and the acting from the leads is natural and engaging. O'Neal plays the tomboyish girl you'd love to have in your own family: whipsmart, cute, and all too wise in the ways of the world.
Paper Moon is perpetually underrated as a saccharine and minor work in Bogdanovich's oeuvre, but don't let the detractors get you down. It's a loving and very sweet movie, but the way it treats family relationships and slyly questions the degree to which we'll do anything in order to take care of our own makes it truly priceless.
The new DVD adds a few retrospective featurettes plus a commentary from Bogdanovich, wherein he explains how a book called Addie Pray became a film called, of all things, Paper Moon.