(Canada, 90 min.)
Written and directed by Rebecca Addelman
Starring: Eve Hewson, Avan Jogia, Andie MacDowell, Hamish Linklater, Grace Glowicki
The traditional gift for one’s first anniversary is paper. Maybe a card, a certificate, or a photograph might find its way into some wrappings as newlyweds celebrate their first year of marriage. Franny (Eve Hewson, Enough Said) and Dan (Avan Jogia, Ghost Wars) gift themselves an ironic piece of paper when Paper Year takes stock at their first year of marriage. This dramedy from Ottawa-born filmmaker Rebecca Addelman illustrates with bittersweet humour how the best gifts are often paper—and by that, I mean receipts.
Paper Year gives honeymoon bliss a reality check as Franny and Dan struggle to make ends meet. Financial strain and job insecurity are tough on any relationship and they take their toll on the couple as they settle for jobs that pay the bills. (She’s an aspiring writer, he’s a wannabe actor.) As Franny lands a hack job writing copy for a cheesy game show and Dan half-assedly becomes a professional house sitter, their gigs bring their own temptations as she finds herself smitten with an attentive co-worker, Noah (Hamish Linklater), and he makes connections with Hailey (Daniela Barbosa), the sexy actress whose house (and bed) he’s looking after. These young lovers quickly realize that the responsibilities of monogamy and creating a family are true commitments one shouldn’t take lightly.
Franny becomes obsessed with saving up for the marriage ceremony they sacrificed by eloping. She natters on about money, clearly as a passive aggressive wedge to inspire Dan to get off his lazy butt and work, and the childish strategy simply shows that neither of them is ready for this commitment. Moreover, their juvenile game speaks to the current state of marriage between millennials when pockets of the generation struggles to grasp the point of marriage anyways. Is it a public declaration of love? A sacrament? An opportunity to upgrade the kitchen? It can be any or all of those, but no relationship thrives in the dark.
Addelman’s character-driven film makes the most of its California settings to draw out the false promise of the couple’s dreams. The bright homes on the rolling hills and California canyons have an emptiness and a deadness to them the longer Franny and Dan marinate in Hailey’s swanky home. Both Franny and Dan tread the line of likability, but Hewson and Jogia aren’t afraid to dig into their characters faults and insecurities. MacDowell offers some of her better work in recent memory with a part that deserved more far more screen time, while Linklater’s Noah provides a lecherous foil to Franny and Dan’s shaky romance, but also an ominous reminder of what someone in an unhappy relationship can become.
Paper Year balances cynicism and sobriety as Addelman shows a firm grasp for directionless millennials who desperately need something to validate their existence. It has hard to feel like an adult while doing side gig shuffles to pay the bills, so Franny and Dan’s impulsive vow plays like a fair one as they try their darnedest to make the most of poor life choices. Their paper year is mean and messy as the strains of adulthood and responsibility hit them hard. They yell, fight, and bring out the worst in each other. They rented The Notebook but got Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. The latter’s the better film, anyways, and, like Paper Year, far more genuine.
Paper Year opens in Toronto on June 22.