Watching this film is an utter delight. It’s sweeter than getting a big stick of cotton candy for free. It’s more enlightening than a bible with your name stamped into it. It’s hilarious and heartwarming and endearing, a road trip movie of the highest order, with biting dialogue that still holds up decades later.
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich, Paper Moon follows Moses Pray and Addie Loggins, played by real-life father and daughter duo Ryan and Taum O’Neal, as Moses transports Addie from Kansas to her aunt’s home in Missouri after the death of her mom. Mos may in fact be Addie’s father, they share a similar jaw and a penchant for no-nonsense tomfoolery, but he is as unfatherly as they come. Mos reluctantly includes Addie in his con schemes and the two form a strange but loving partnership on their journey through the midwest.
The best scene happens early on, where Mos is confronted by Addie in a diner, beckoning Mos to pay her the $200 he received from the man who killed her mom. Mos is hesitant and defiant, unwilling to surmise to the will of this little girl. But Addie is steadfast, not willing to let some con man swindle her just because of her age. The two battle back and forth in hilarious, quick-timed tempo, setting the tone for this lively, Depression-era jaunt.
The film’s charm is wholly derived from Mos and Andie’s chemistry. They clearly grow to love each other, but each is unwilling to express just how they feel, instead exchanging witty insults and quick banter as a defense mechanism. This is owed to the fact that Ryan and Tatum are father and daughter in real life, but really its because these two are stunning actors with a bond so strong and so rare that its like they were both born to talk to each other on screen for hours on end. The entire movie could have taken place in that diner scene and we would still be equally as entertained.
Even if you haven’t watched Paper Moon, you still know it for giving Tatum O’Neal an Oscar, making her the youngest Academy Award recipient in history. It’s an impressive feat, one that still hasn’t been broken, but it isn’t one that’s wholly deserved. That’s because Tatum won for Best Supporting Actress, when clearly she is the main character of the movie. Sure, she bounces off banter with her dad, but she carries an aura of confidence and poise around her that veteran actresses would be lucky to illuminate even just a fraction of. Her performance is so strong she should have been nominated for Best Actress and won, and then won the next year too for the same role just because winning once wouldn’t have been good enough.
It’s bizarre to look at a picture of Tatum O’Neal now and realize that she has grown up and lived her life beyond her most iconic role. Still, we’ll always remember her as the girl who still hasn’t gotten her 200 dollars.