The Paper (1994)


Michael Keaton leads an all-star ensemble in this Ron Howard comedy/drama about newspaper staff trying to balance their high-stress job with the challenges of every-day life. Over the course of twenty-four hours, Keaton’s character chases an exclusive while his pregnant wife (Marisa Tomei) worries if he’ll be there for her and their new family. Glenn Close plays the hard-ass who feuds with Keaton over the front page headline, but mostly because she just feels left out of the ‘boys’ club’. Randy Quaid plays a detective worried about getting shot by someone whose life was ruined through his reporting, and Robert Duvall presides over all of them as the managing editor, a man dealing with his own family issues and an ever-growing prostate.

The Paper essentially boils down to a message reminding us to stop and smell the roses. The character interactions are far more interesting than the plot, which gets a bit overwrought in the third act with a literal ‘stop the press’ moment and two characters being sent to the hospital. Fortunately, The Paper isn’t really about its plot. It’s about its characters. And those characters are played by great actors at the top of their game. Keaton delivers a quintessential Michael Keaton performance — sweet, driven, snarky, and just a little mad. Marisa Tomei holds her own with him in a roll that could easily have been a thankless, whining harpy. The fact that her character also used to be a newspaper reporter helps her relate with her husband and cut him some slack. Randy Quaid knows how to play a loose cannon better than anyone, and Robert Duvall brings warmth as the team’s patriarch — a stern man who’s not without a sense of humor. Glenn Close is terrific as usual, but her character is the weakest in the screenplay — affected by the needs of the story and its underlying message more than through organic character development.

The best scenes in The Paper are ones where the whole ensemble get together in daily meetings and duke it out over what should and should not appear in the latest edition. Those scenes provide a real eye-opener to lay people about the sacrifices news people make to stay on top of the headlines. The film gets a bit insincere and sentimental toward the end, as it reminds us all that family and private life should always come first. Howard succeeds more in illustrating the intoxicating effect of the bustling work place, where quarrel and collaboration in pursuit of a common good provides the greatest high.

With Jason Robards, Jason Alexander, Spalding Gray, and Catherine O’Hara.

Oscar Nomination: Best Song (“Make Up Your Mind”, Randy Newman)

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