Paper Moon ★★★★½

Was absolutely certain I’d seen this back in my early twenties--to the point I didn’t think I’d find time for it before it left Criterion at the end of the month and was okay with it even though I’ve been on a mini-Bogdanovich kick lately--but it became apparent almost instantly that I’d retained only a handful of moments (the “twenty dollars” department store scam, Kahn’s grifter to grifter hillside chat with Addie) so let’s just call it a first time watch. The key to this is, frankly, how much of a little shit Addie is, and not in a cloying, “aint I a stinker” movie kid kind of way. The character is wise beyond her years but never in a way that feels precocious or trained to recite quips on cue (although the scheme to set-up Trixie with the front desk clerk comes a little too close) and retains her agency and idiosyncrasies* throughout. Her laser focus on recouping what she (rightly) feels stolen from her may only be a pretense to prolong her time with a surrogate father figure but every time “Moze” tries to foist her off onto her aunt she rattles off the balance of what she’s owed and is intimidating enough for him to reverse course. In other words the character could have been reduced to a prop and it’s a credit to both of the O’Neils and especially Bogdanovich, who coaxed this performance out of an eight-year-old neophyte, that Addie frequently comes across as the smarter of the two without Ryan O’Neil having to play the role as addled (as opposed to simply over-confident and a little dense). Bogdanovich largely eschews sentimentality even refusing to directly answer the question of Addie’s paternity (when it seems fair to assume based on the casting and complementary skill set) with the pairing remaining largely mercenary even in the parting reconciliation. As in LAST PICTURE SHOW this edges right up against nostalgia for a bygone era (gorgeous Kovács photography) while remaining clear-eyed about human nature and alliances of necessity. Now, drink your Nehi and eat your Coney Island.

*Including smoking, which Moze discourages exactly once before giving up on dissuading her, and loudly calling out the lines to radio plays (Did these air in reruns? I’d literally never considered this before).