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Paper Spiders

****
2020

‘…a smart, affecting film that has the caustic eye for teenage angst and parental love that The Gilmore Girls had…’

If you’d got a mark next to April 7th 2021 in your diary, it might be because you’re celebrating Mother’s Day in the US, or you’re looking to towards Mental Health Awareness Month. Or maybe you could be doing both, since they’re hardly exclusive; moms are a big part of our development, and how we take care of those who once took care of us is a perennial issue. Husband and wife team Inon and Natalie Shampanier tackle that subject head-on with Paper Spiders, an indie drama about a student’s fractured relationship with her mother. In truth, you don’t need a special day or month to watch this; it’s a strong, effective film.

Curly of hair and long on agency, Stefania LaVie Owen plays Melanie, a smart young girl heading to a pre-med course at USC. Melanie is still living at her Syracuse home at 17, but her mother Dawn (Lili Taylor) isn’t seeing the world quite so clearly. Dawn is suffering from paranoid delusions about her neighbours’ activities, and while Melanie struggles to navigate drugs, boys and other teenage problems, her mom’s erratic behaviour threatens to overshadow traditional traumas like prom and graduation.

Although it delves into some dark matters, it’s important to emphasise that Paper Spiders is a positive and upbeat film. This is no starchy PSA, but a thoughtful and serious-minded film that deals adeptly with mental health issues, with a mother-daughter relationship firmly at the centre. As co-writer and director, Inon Shampanier manages to coax universally strong performances, with nice supporting work from Ian Nelson as a charming beau with a booze addiction and Max Casella as a salty private detective; there’s a throwaway line he delivers about how trying to rescue a drowning man can doom you to the same fate that rings true as something learned from experience. There’s also a terrifically well-chosen selection of music on the soundtrack by Ariel Blumenthal, and the comic portrayal of Melanie’s guidance teacher is worth the rental alone.

Family dramas are poorly served by today’s studio pictures; Paper Spiders harks back to classics Ordinary People or Terms of Endearment in mining family relationships for dramatic ore and creating an engrossing story from the results. Owen and Taylor are the centre of this picture, and they shine. Paper Spiders works best as an indie without studio trappings; it’s a smart, affecting film that has the caustic eye for teenage angst and parental love that The Gilmore Girls had, and that’s high praise indeed from this critic. So let’s not label this a mental illness drama, but instead focus on an upbeat, universal story about family, how it hurts ,and how to set about repairing the damage done, a good message for any day of the week, month or year.

PAPER SPIDERS hits theaters and VOD platforms on May 7th, which is Mother’s Day weekend and the start of Mental Health Awareness Month.

Thanks to Prodigy Public Relations and Entertainmnet Squad for access to this film.

Comments

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  1. A new mother-and-daughter drama sounds a welcome addition. I have no Gilmore Girls experience so compare it with so come at your review with fresh eyes and like the sound of this.

  2. I gave up on Gilmore Girls at the ending of Season 3, I think?
    I really liked it up until that point. It was the show that made me a McCarthy fan (and that fandom died with the Ghostbusters reboot, sadly).

    Glad to see you’re back open for business…

  3. Prefer cynical films. Optimism has no place in my life.

    And, I’m sorry, but the title of ‘Gilmore Girls’ really puts me off watching it. However, it is done by the same people from Marvelous Mrs Maisle, right? That’s certainly something to think about.

  4. Glad you are back, I missed you. Hope things are OK in your bit of Scootland .
    I don’t know anything about the Gilmore Girls so that reference went over my head. Not sure I’d watch this, family dramas don’t do it for me on the whole, sorry Nope.

    • Sigh. Tough crowd. If you’ve got Netflix, then 150 hours of Gilmore Girls is ready and waiting for you.
      No need to miss anyone, right here and reading about Charlie Chan’s Pitiful Adventure.

        • Quite the opposite! Should I just ask you for a list of films and tv shows that you’ve seen, so I don’t try your patience by mentioning ones you’re not familiar with?

    • The film was voted FILM MOST SIMILAR TO THE MUCH LOVED GILMORE GIRLS 2021 award, if you like a trip to Stars Hollow, this is a bit more real-worldy, but has the same perceptive take on mothers and daughters…

        • I’m a card carrying member of the Gilmour Girls cult, have seen every episode, and if you like that, you’ll dig this. Am warming up to write one block-busting review of the entire series, but this’ll do for now. Don’t go stealing any boats!

          • Love it! So much great humor in that show, and every time I revisit I “get” at least one more of the pop culture references. Paper Spider has zoomed to the top of my list. ( Side note, finally got Promising Young Woman from Netflix…will be checking that out this weekend.). Eagerly awaiting your GG review….!

            • It’s been in the works for some time. Where to start? With a Jess vs Dean comparison? With a study of activities in Doosey’s market? Or should I look into why does Logan give Rory a telescope? Why is Emily’s mother also her aunt? So much to discuss…

              • Why is the mother also the aunt is the one that I want to know! I think those who obsess over which boyfriend was the best are missing the point of the show ( and not acknowledging that they were all terrible, Jess most of all!). I prefer to wonder who was really Rory’s best friend–Lane or Paris?

                • Paris, of course. Lane’s music career, mother fixation and casting confusion weaken her as a candidate. and I find Lane’s musical affections hard to fathom. Rory, like her mom, has terrible taste in men, Luke being the obvious exception.

                  So who is Sherilyn Fenn playing? That always troubled me…

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