In the 1990s, Lill Taylor was one of the top Indy film stars and one of my
favorite actresses. Many mainstream audience members might remember her for
Mystic Pizza (1988) or her small but memorable part in Say Anything (1989).
But her best work probably occurred in many below the radar little Indy gems
such as Bright Angel (1990), Dogfight (1991), Household Saints (1993), and I
Shot Andy Warhol (1996), as well as the more popular Short Cuts (1993) which may
be one of the best late period Robert Altman films, and the entertaining romcom,
Hi Fidelity (2000).
Like many actresses her career lost steam when she reached a certain age, but
she did gain some good notices for her work in the popular horror film,
(2013) as well as some high-quality TV programs.
Taylor gives a tremendously convincing performance in the recently released
Paper Spiders, and this is definitely her finest film role in a long time. It
shows that this sometimes-great actress can still be at the top of her game if
she gets the right script. Her character is the most real person I have seen on
screen in a long time.
Paper Spiders is a compelling, well developed drama that examines how mental
illness affects, strains and eventually threatens a mother/daughter
It depicts a mom, Dawn (played by Taylor) with disturbing paranoid delusions
that keep getting stronger until they interfere with the lives of everyone
around her especially her high school age daughter , Melanie (well-played by the
New Zealand born newcomer, Stefania LaVie Owen).
It should not be surprising that Paper Spiders has the ring of authenticity
about it. The film was written by the husband-and-wife team of Inorr Shampanier
(who also directed) and Natalie Shamp, and it is loosely based on the tumultuous
relationship that Natalie had with her own mentally ill mom.
When the film begins, Dawn’s 17-year-old daughter (the real actress is 23),
Melanie describes her mother as “quirky and neurotic” in what could be the
understatement of the year, and it shows the daughter is slow in confronting the
depths of her mom’s deepening insanity.
Melanie hopes to go away to study premed at USC, but like many moms, Dawn would
rather that her daughter stay close to home (in New York.) Dawn might also be
concerned that her daughter might try to connect with her estranged dad.
The situation is further complicated because Melanie begins seeing the peppy and
spirited Daniel (Ian Nelson) who goes to her high school. He initially went to
extremes to get any attention from her, but she gradually warmed up to him. But
it turns out he has his own dark problems which threaten to bring down Melanie
(it is not like she does not have enough to worry about).
Melanie tries to fix up her mom with a prospective boyfriend from a computer
dating site, probably hoping that he will help take her mom off her hands, The
pair initially hit it off, but Melanie begins to have her doubts when they too
begin to have problems.
With no evidence, Dawn irrationally becomes convinced that her neighbor is
spying on her and is planning something nefarious scheme. She hires a detective
to find proof, and the daughter resents her mom wasting their money.
Al this leads to a shocking and powerful denouement during prom night which does
not flinch or sugarcoat followed by a convincing quasi hopeful resolution.
Paper Tigers is painfully real and honest, and it is never preachy, pandering or
condescending towards its subject like some of the social issue centered Oscar
bait films (I Am Sam comes to mind). Also, it features two of the finest
performances I have seen in months. There might be great things ahead for
newcomer, Stefania LaVie Owen, who is very sympathetic in the film’s more
restrained second lead.
It would be a great shame if this special little film disappeared in the cracks
and did not find the audience it richly deserves. Hopefully, some people will
get sick of the heavily hyped giant ape and zombie films and will give some more
serious, adult dramas a chance. Hopefully, getting a 100 percent on the Rotten
Tomatoes "Tomatometer" will help.