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film review

Eve Hewson plays Franny and Avan Jogia plays Dan in Paper Year.Pacific Northwest Pictures

  • Paper Year
  • Written and directed by: Rebecca Addelman
  • Starring: Eve Hewson and Avan Jogia
  • Classification: 18A
  • 100 minutes

Rating:

3 out of 4 stars

Since the Hollywood studios have largely abandoned the field, it is falling to Netflix, Amazon and small indie films to define contemporary romance. The traditional rom-com was propelled by comic situations, mistaken identities and prolonged confusions that kept lovers apart until the third act. However, in recent titles such as The F-Word, Sleeping with Other People or Obvious Child, it is the tortured characters’ skepticism and ineptitude that appear as the main roadblocks. These days, the hard-won, last-minute ending of The Big Sick may be about as happily-ever-after as you are going to get.

Now, Canadian director Rebecca Addelman turns the whole proposition on its head, in her slight but intriguing anti-romance Paper Year. Supported by Telefilm Canada and the CBC but set entirely in L.A., the film begins as Franny (Eve Hewson) and Dan (Avan Jogia) spill out of a municipal wedding chamber, congratulate the next couples in line and rush into the street bursting with their declarations and their kisses. They are quickly brought up short by Franny’s parents, in a darkly amusing scene where the bride’s mother (Andie MacDowell) tries valiantly to engage with this ill-considered decision to marry young and poor, while the wordless father slouches in the background.

The excruciating realism, the well-observed social undercurrents and the tentative black comedy are typical of Addelman’s provocative if occasionally wavering style as Franny and Dan proceed to screw up their first year of married life. Within months of the excited nuptials, both are dreaming of other people: An aspiring screenwriter, she has a crush on the head writer on the game show where she’s got her first job in television; a would-be actor who mainly dog walks and house sits, he creates a fantasy life surrounding the young actress whose glamorous home the newlyweds are occupying for six months.

Although it gives more space to Franny’s escapades, the plot is inventively orchestrated to tease out both sides of the story, and Addelman’s wry observations on the idiocy that young women endure from senior male colleagues is acutely topical. Hewson’s smart and sassy Franny is certainly no pushover; yet, the actress makes her ill-advised passion for the manipulative Noah completely convincing – even as Hamish Linklater delights in creating an obnoxious character with warning signs posted all over him, the very picture of middle-aged insecurity and self-indulgence.

Jogia’s Dan is more gentle and more lost than Franny – Dan is the one making lists of potential babies’ names – and together the actors carefully peel back layers of their dynamic to reveal how this husband and wife are mismatched. But it is Hewson’s scenes with Linklater’s Noah that are truly painful to watch – although also the most potentially funny; they may leave you hooting with laughter or peering at the screen through your fingers, depending on your appetite for watching a sympathetic character make colossally embarrassing mistakes.

Laughter always helps an audience cope with its discomfort, but Addelman, who could take a firmer hand with her own material, doesn’t offer much guidance as to how funny these scenes should be. She plays Noah’s scheming very quietly and then opts for a downbeat ending to her film. In a piece bracingly free of sentiment, viewers may be left puzzling over how much com they were supposed to find in this rom.

Paper Year opens Friday in Toronto, Vancouver, and Ottawa