Nicole Kidman as Charlotte and Zac Efron as Jack. Click on the 'Play' button above to watch the trailer for The Paperboy.
February 26, 2013
(Republished June 24, 2013)
Lee Daniels’ Precious was showered with acclaim, yet his follow-up, The Paperboy, has become something of a punch line amongst critics and moviegoers. Sometimes I don’t understand this industry. No one was even peed on in Precious! Despite Gabourey Sidibe’s fine performance in that supposed slice of realist drama, Daniels’ directorial flourishes manipulated the audience - and exploited his characters - in a manner that felt inauthentic. This, however, is a sweaty, Southern Gothic murder story starring Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron in very little clothing. Let the manipulation and exploitation commence!
The Paperboy is narrated by the distinctly voiced Macy Gray, and takes place in a small Southern Florida town circa 1969. Efron plays Jack, a failed teenage swimmer with aspirations of becoming a big city journalist like older brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey). Big bro has returned to his hometown to clear the name of Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), a grimy hill-person who has nonetheless been wrongly accused of killing a sheriff. Ward brings with him Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo), a writer with black skin and an English accent (neither attribute endears him to the Floridian natives). Also along for the ride is Hillary’s beloved Charlotte Bless (Kidman), a sweet lady with an insatiable lust for prison inmates. Jack has feelings for Charlotte, but her affections are reserved for Hillary. And why wouldn’t they be? On their first meeting in prison, he demands she put on a sex show of sorts in front of everyone. She obliges. Look, dating is tough.
Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, and David Oyelowo.
Daniels – adapting Peter Dexter’s novel of the same name – seems barely concerned with the investigation into Hillary's innocence. Instead, he fixates on the somewhat inappropriate relationship between Charlotte and Jack. Cinematographer Roberto Schaefer captures Kidman and Efron’s luscious, obscenely photogenic forms in all manner of strange situations (including the aforementioned water-cooler moment in which Charlotte urinates on Jack after a jellyfish attack at the beach). Both actors are superb, and when Daniels sticks to this darkly comic tale of unrequited love and misplaced adoration, The Paperboy shines. The civil rights movement rages on in the distance, but here in the swamp, it's hard to see past the sex.
Had the film remained something like a hazy, scarcely recollected memory of a romance from Jack’s youth, it would have been transcendent. However, the ugly traces of the murder mystery occasionally peer in from the fringes, waving away those dreamy sequences as if they were a reflection in the water. Ward and Yardley’s journalistic endeavour is just not all that compelling. It's practically forgotten about for large stretches of the flick. When it finally re-emerges in the final act, it culminates with gut-churning violence. Daniels goes too far in Precious, not pulling back when it mattered most. Here, he goes all out, and that feels right for a story so trashy. I only wish he was able to reconcile the picture’s two disparate storylines into one, tonally consistent whole.
The Paperboy is available on Quickflix from June 28, 2013.