Writer/director Bowman got the original idea for Paperback Hero when he was in the US and read a piece in the paper about a Texan truck driver who had written romantic fiction under an assumed name. This made him wonder if sensitive truckers were an international commodity. So, in the movie version, we have Hugh Jackman in his first movie lead role as Jack, a Roy Orbison-loving trucker who drives a road train (huge truck with several trailers) across the Australian Outback with only his dog for company.
Jack has written a romantic novel and sold it to a publisher. The only problem is that Jack has used the pseudonym Ruby Vale and Ruby (Karvan) is very much a real person. In fact, she’s Jack’s best friend. So when big city agent Ziggy (Milliken) comes to the tiny Outback town to see her latest author, Jack has to rely on that well-worn movie staple of persuading the real Ruby to stand in for him. Ruby only agrees to do the rounds of publicity in Sydney if Ziggy will arrange and pay for her wedding to local vet Hamish (Gilbert).
Anyone who’s ever seen a romantic comedy before knows that the relationship between Ruby and Jack is not the teasing, antagonistic brother-siser act they try to make out. Poor Hamish is also the living embodiment of the nice guy who’s going to finish last. The scenes of Jack and Ruby in Sydney allow for some big city versus small town comedic moments, but it’s all very much romantic comedy by the numbers. There’s even a nod to the cocktail dress moment in Pretty Woman as we see Jack enter a party only to find tomboy Ruby in a red silk number.
But, that’s not to say that Paperback Hero is a disappointment. Quite the opposite, in fact. Hugh Jackman oozes natural charm and charisma. For his first starring role, the sheer star wattage he exudes is incredible and it’s easy to see why he went fro Australian DTV fare to Hollywood A-list. And he sings (Roy Orbison’s Crying), which is a plus point in any movie, as Jackman has a terrific voice. If you admire him for more than his talent, you may be pleased to note he spends a great deal of his time in shorts and a vest.
Back in Australia, Karvan’s also a major star, although international audiences probably know her best as either Alex in TV’s The Secret Life of Us or as Amidala’s sister in Attack of the Clones. She makes Ruby a tough but likeable character, unlike many romantic comedy heroines who you just want to slap around until they see sense. Karvan herself is a keen amateur pilot and this really adds something to the scenes where Ruby is flying her old crop duster, because it’s obvious that there’s no trick editing being employed.
There are some nice additional touches, like the subplot featuring Ruby’s best friend Suzy (Jeanie Drynan, who was Muriel’s mother in Muriel’s Wedding) becoming emancipated from her bullying husband. And, if you look carefully, the Boomerang Café owned by Ruby is entirely shaped like its name, as is almost eveything inside, including the bar itself.
Paperback Hero is not going to rock your world or even change the face of romantic comedy, but it’s a diverting and amusing way to spend an afternoon on the sofa with a box of your favourite chocolates. And the robust Australian dialogue prevents it from being too sweet a treat.