The Paperboy Review


With The Paperboy, Lee Daniels has made a film best described as a brilliant disaster. His touch is unmistakable, interesting, and ballsy, but it’s also the film’s downfall. Watching The Paperboy, you can’t help but feel suffocated by an overwhelmingly unpleasant sense of camp. While blood, sweat, and Nicole Kidman’s urine spurt, drip, and squirt around your screen, you’ll either cover your eyes or scratch your head. Sure, it’s cool that the success of Precious has allowed Daniels to make his own kind of movie. But is this a movie the world was clamoring for?

Zac Efron’s Jack is at the heart of Daniels’ new film. He lives in the insufferably humid Florida sticks with his father (a newspaper editor), his stepmother, and their family’s housekeeper, Anita (Macy Gray). It’s Anita who narrates the story (via flashbacks) of murder and love in the swamps. Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) is on death row, accused of killing a racist sheriff. While in prison, a Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman) writes Hillary, confessing her love to him (though the two have never met). They get engaged, and she begins visiting Hillary in the company of two reporters—Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) and Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo). The former is Jack’s brother, and the directionless and dim young man starts working as his brother, Yardley, and Charlotte’s driver. He develops a hopeless crush on the lone female of the ragtag group, and she enjoys toying with him. But her heart belongs to Hillary, whose innocence Ward is convinced of. So he begins a crusade that will challenge everything he believes in and reveal secrets he and those around him hoped would remain forever covered.

Daniels overstuffs the film with characters and subplots to the point that he dilutes the story’s most essential pieces. Jack is merely an observer and a rather pathetic one at that. Ward, meanwhile, is nothing more than a device. His “quest” for the truth should be our emotional hook into The Paperboy. McConaughey’s odd lack of charisma, coupled with the screenplay’s pissing all over this character, turns it into a guy who’s always one step behind, like us. The way Daniels unfolds the film’s chief mystery stymies Ward’s development and makes him seem like a fool.

Worse, though, is Jack. He’s nothing more than a whiny child. He around in his underpants for the bulk of the film. He pines after Charlotte—a real woman—in an embarrassing way. The more time we spend with him, the worse the film is, and Efron—trying so hard to step away from his Disney image—is simply dreadful.

Thankfully, interesting characters populate the periphery of The Paperboy with Nicole Kidman out in front in a big, big way. She’s absolutely electric. She’s caked in pastel makeup, dressed in barely-there costumes (usually dresses, NOT pantsuits). And yeah, she touches herself. And pees on Efron. It’s weird, but she really goes for it and comes through shining.

Her equal in a lot of ways is David Oyelowo as Yardley. The role isn’t as well-defined as that of Charlotte, but he’s the source of some of both the film’s best swerves and moments of comic relief, and Oyelowo proves deft at pulling off each and every one of his character’s many facets.

Daniels’ direction is awfully heavy-handed, but those who’ve seen Precious won’t be especially surprised by what he has to say here. There are some extremely grisly moments throughout the film, and no one will confuse its campiness with lightheartedness. But it’s incredibly sensual. You feel the Florida heat that makes Charlotte’s dresses cling to her skin, that makes perspiration drip from every character’s face. The setting might actually be the film’s most clearly defined character. But that’s where the success of his handling of the material ends. Story-wise, The Paperboy is all over the place.

Should you see The Paperboy? Yeah, sure. It’s a film you probably won’t like, but it’s hard not to have some kind of reaction to it.

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