Paper Spiders: Do Not Sleep on This Film!

Dawn (Lili Taylor) and Melanie (Stefania LaVie Owen) in Paper Spiders. Courtesy of Entertainment Squad.

Paper Spiders adds to the conversation about mental health but this is a film that should not be ignored during awards season.

This is a very personal film for co-writer Natalie Shampanier. She draws upon her own experiences in telling this story. Her mother was a victim of persecutory delusional disorder. Unlike Melanie (Stefania LaVie Owen) in the film, Natalie is a therapist but no therapy could help her late mother’s situation. It’s these personal experiences that help explain why the film jumps from comedy to tragedy so quickly. I won’t lie. You feel the heartbreak almost immediately for the lead characters. It’s not just the fact that Dawn (Lili Taylor) is suffering from paranoia. She refuses all kinds of help and because of this, lives around Dawn start falling apart. Including Melanie’s.

One important thing to take away from Paper Spiders, performances aside, is the need to lessen the stigma. Until we lessen the stigma, we are going to have the same conversation every year. I feel like movies are starting to follow through in this regard. This isn’t the first film I’ve seen in which a screenwriter draws on their own experiences. It probably won’t be the last. The thing to stress the most when it comes to filmmaking or social media: nobody should be afraid when it comes to discussing their experiences. It’s no surprise, however, that Entertainment Squad decided on releasing during Mental Health Awareness Month in May.

One on hand, Dawn is dealing with the passing of her husband. On the other hand, daughter Melanie is moving away for college and this brings about increasing anxiety. Factor in a new neighbor being hostile and before we know it, Dawn is having paranoid delusions. Melanie does everything she can to aid her mother, much to the detriment of her own life. Helping Dawn means Melanie’s life starts to fall apart. She has to choose between her life at school or helping her mother. There isn’t an easy choice here especially with mental illness on full display.

I admit to being super late in watching Paper Spiders. A lot of this is because of bad timing on my end. I took a break for the Olympics. Before I knew it, TIFF and the Jewish holidays were right around the corner. But anyway, none of this matters now because I finally watched the film. Do I apologize for being late? Definitely. I urge my colleagues to watch Paper Spiders if they’ve yet to do so. Lili Taylor needs to be in the conversation for Best Actress!

The film is superbly directed by Israeli-American filmmaker Inon Shampanier. He gets strong performances out of the two leads, not to mention the rest of the cast.

Whether you’re in the Academy or an awards-voting film critic, do not sleep on Paper Spiders, especially Lili Taylor’s Gotham-nominated performance! Drawing upon personal experiences, Paper Spiders benefits from Lili Taylor and Stefania LaVie Owen’s performances.

DIRECTOR: Inon Shampanier
SCREENWRITERS: Natalie Shampanier & Inon Shampanier
CAST: Lili Taylor, Stefania LaVie Owen, Peyton List, Ian Nelson, David Rasche, Max Casella, Michael Cyril Creighton, Tom Papa

Entertainment Squad released Paper Spiders in theaters and VOD on May 7, 2021.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.