Peter Bogdanovich loves the movies in a way that exposes both him and the movies to all kinds of heartache. Whether in Targets or The Last Picture Show, the pair of them--Bogdanovich and the movies--unashamedly argue and make up in public, always close to understanding one another as much as they understand themselves. Add to that Ryan and Tatum O’Neal, a couple of genuine movie actors, and Paper Moon becomes a movie in which everyone knows they’re making a movie--but it is a secret love, one they won’t tell us about--they’ll show us, though.
The O’Neals move through the black and white Depression just like actors in a Depression-era film, their voices taking on the same cadences, the same slightly self-conscious tilt of actors playing “low”--and this is what I love best about Paper Moon, its desire to be a movie, to roll out those barren Plains like Steinbeck daydreams, like a Warner Bros. reminiscence of the 1930s. Addie’s stubborn affection for Franklin D. and Mose’s silly mustache conspire like Wild Boys of the Road to put on a show--a series of shows, really, little con games we love to watch, like card tricks--and we are willing to be fooled, it’s so much fun, this loving pretense of theirs. Of course “it’s only a paper moon,” as phony as Mose’s snap-on gold tooth; that’s the feature, kiddo.