The Vulture and Aunt May navigate married life and tabloid journalism in this Ron Howard comedy

The sixth Spider-Man movie in the last 15 years has officially hit theaters and is being greeted by some of the best reviews the webslinger has ever enjoyed. The instant praise Spider-Man: Homecoming gotten thus far has been enormous with some critics even shedding tears due to the film’s power.

Led by current Spider-Man Tom Holland, Homecoming can count Michael Keaton (on-hand for villain duties as the Vulture) and Marisa Tomei (as a ridiculously hot Aunt May) among its supporting players. Both are given their moments to shine in the film, pleasing fans of the two while also introducing their talents to a new crop of moviegoers. For me, the casting of Keaton and Tomei allows me to revisit their previous teaming up in Ron Howard’s dark comedy The Paper.

Taking place in the span of 24 hours, The Paper centers on Henry Hackett (Keaton), the assistant editor of a struggling second-rate New York City newspaper. Henry has a lot on his plate just dealing with the characters in his life, including his expectant wife Martha (Tomei), his paranoid columnist McDougal (Quaid), the paper’s editor-in-chief Bernie (Robert Duvall), and the fierce managing editor Alicia (Glenn Close). As if that weren’t enough, the murder of two visiting businessmen and the suspicion and arrest of two black youths for the killings have Henry and the paper up in arms, culminating in one of the biggest days of his life and career.

Howard has always had a skilled hand when it came to crafting comedy on screen, and The Paper is a sterling example. The film has a great comic voice in Henry, a man using humor to mask the fact that he hasn’t got a handle on his life whatsoever, from trying to be the perfect husband to trying to maintain his flourishing career. “Why don’t you just pour battery acid down your throat,” Martha asks the Coke-guzzling Henry at one point. “No caffeine,” he replies. Henry is in way over his head, and he knows it. However, Henry is funny, and he knows that too, making humor the strongest weapon against the grind of his daily life. “Are you completely psychotic,” Henry’s secretary asks later on when he switches the beats of two of his best reporters. “I have episodes. Nothing serious,” he says.

Besides Henry, The Paper is loaded with one satirical sequence after another, with the most hilarious one occurring when the two aforementioned reporters are fighting in Henry’s office as he tries to hopelessly mediate while Martha sits patiently silent waiting her turn to speak with him. Finally an angry McDougal, whose pleas for everyone to stop go nowhere, takes a stack of newspapers and fires a gun into it, abruptly stopping the action. “Let. Marty. Talk. To. Her. Husband,” he states in a slight unhinged manner. As the office quickly clears out, Martha looks at Henry and excitedly whispers, “God! I miss this place!”

Comedic moments aside, The Paper shows Howard at his most Capra-esque. While the director has been compared to the legendary filmmaker at numerous times in the past, this film represents the time when Frank Capra’s influence on Howard proved to be the strongest. The crux of The Paper’s conflict is the battle between Henry and Alicia over whether or not to print a story they both know is false. While Henry can prove the two boys arrested for the murder of the two businessmen are innocent, the hard-nosed Alicia insists the more sensational story accusing them should run, stating at the editorial meeting, “We taint them today, we make them look good on Saturday. Everyone’s happy.”

Henry, however, refuses to accept this, going so far as to prove the boys’ innocence any way he possibly can, eventually succeeding. “I’ve got a cop! I’ve got a quote! It’s wrong,” he exclaims to Alicia later on as the presses are literally about to run. “Not for today it’s not! Tomorrow it’s wrong! We’ve only got to be right for a day,” she defiantly counters. While Henry is more transformed by what the perils of his trade have turned him into, refusing to let himself be swallowed up by an action he considers immoral, it takes the highly cynical McDougal to lay it out for the steadfast Alicia. “We run stupid headlines because we think they’re funny. We run maimings on the front page because we got good art. And I spend three weeks bitching about my car because it sells papers,” he says. “But at least it’s the truth.”

A film such as The Paper, with its manic energy and larger-than-life moments, is ripe for some prime scenery-chewing from any actor; and the stable of thespians here are all good and hungry. Keaton is at his most Keaton-ist as the center of the storm trying to make sense of every part of Henry’s life while this unexpected impasse approaches. Duvall has some truly great moments as the weathered old editor whose past mistakes still haunt him, but still has a fire about him. “Don’t just take an opinion because it’s the opposite of what SHE says,” referring to Alicia as he exclaims to Henry. “It’s like watching a bunch of sixth graders for Christ’s sake!” Tomei elevates the standard wife role and makes Martha both a worthy sparring partner for Henry as well as her own independent woman. Meanwhile, Quaid earns some great laughs as the unpredictable McDougal, and Close tears into Alicia’s maddening drive and ambition in one of her best underrated performances.

The Paper performed moderately well with audiences when released in the summer of 1994 (yes, this was actually a SUMMER offering), making a somewhat decent haul at the box-office. Most critics likewise praised the film for its satirical approach and the work done by the cast and director. However, a number of reviewers called Howard out for being too sappy and neat with the film’s ending. Yet after scoring a Best Original Song Oscar nomination for Randy Newman’s “Make Up Your Mind,” The Paper was more or less forgotten.

Although Howard’s film gives all his characters happy endings, there’s a slight cynicism in wondering if these conclusions will actually amount to a change in any of these people and the way they live their lives. That aside, The Paper works perfectly thanks to the tightness of the story, the strength of the actors, and the exhilaration that exists all the way through it. Some have called The Paper too exaggerated and animated to be taken seriously in the line of films which depict the world of journalism, especially when compared to such fare as Absence of Malice and All the President’s Men. Yet The Paper proves its worth as a credible newspaper movie in the way it shines a light on the politics, conflict, and grayness those who enter into the profession must face, and does it without ever once flinching.

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