Talk about perfect casting! Lili Taylor and Stefania LaVie Owen play mother and daughter in the fantastic and complicated drama Paper Spiders. As Melanie (LaVie Owen) visits colleges and begins planning her future, her mother Dawn careens on a downward spiral of increasingly paranoid behavior. Her husband has passed away recently, but its not until an aggressive encounter with her new neighbor that Dawn really begins acting out. Dawn’s delusions threaten to disrupt Melanie’s tight-laid plans, including a fresh relationship with cutie Daniel (Ian Nelson). It’s another coming-of-age film, and like the best of them, it crafts a sensitive and stunning character arc for Melanie. It also juggles mental illness in a sensitive way, and allows Lili Taylor to stretch her acting muscles.
The bond between Dawn and Melanie is established right from our opening scenes, with the seeds of worry planted around Dawn during their campus tour. Even then, Dawn can’t seem to imagine a reality existing without her daughter. Dawn’s behavior escalates to an unforeseen level of scary. She gets fired from her job and files a restraining order against the neighbor, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Dawn throws away Melanie’s laptop with little regard for the important information inside. Their tumultuous relationship culminates in a heartbreaking and horrifying scene at Melanie’s high school graduation.
The sad thing about delusional disorder is that there’s no cure. Patients need a strong system of love and support to function in any normal kind of way. It’s a serious mental illness that director Inon Shampanier and his writing partner Natalie Shampanier approach with compassion and honesty. The way they film the delusions, allowing the audience inside Dawn’s headspace, is brilliant. Lili Taylor and Stefania LaVie Owen are each incredible in their own ways; Lili is convincing and raw in her portal of the disorder, while Stefania wrecks you with her emotional scale and warmth. The two-pronged god tier performances solidify Paper Spiders as a phenomenal coming-of-age drama.
Paper Spiders is crawling its way to VOD and theaters on May 7th.