There was a time when Peter Bogdanovich was a superstar director, and after making megahits with the monochrome elegy The Last Picture Show and the breakneck farce What’s Up, Doc?, he struck gold again with a work that channeled both of those films’ spirits. Paper Moon is screwball slowed down, a black-and-white con-artist road comedy with bittersweet spirit and sober reflection on how folks got by during the Great Depression.
Real-life father-daughter combo Ryan O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal play Moses and Addie – he an adult swindler (and probably her long-lost dad), she a cute little 9-year-old who nevertheless smokes like a trooper and proves a quick study at scams. Paper Moon sees through Addie’s scowls and Moses’s refusal to show emotion to find a tender bond, forged in a series of hilarious scrapes that are subtly contexualised by the pathos of desperate times. The title underscores the fakery and the romance of both criminality and moviemaking, and Bogdanovich shoots in a style somewhere between warm pastiche and gritty realism. Sweet, playful, reverberant – this is a perfect movie. [Ian Mantgani]