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« NYFF: Lincoln's Unfinished Noisy Debut | Main | NYFF: "Room 237" Cult of the Overlook Hotel »

Review: "The Paperboy" 

This article was previously published in my column at Towleroad

Now the very exciting correspondence is in the bottom box. In case you're interested."
-Charlotte Bless

I can't recall how THE PAPERBOY begins exactly though I saw it just a few days ago. Was it a shot of Zac Efron's body gliding through a pool, losing its hard fixed shape through the watery prism. Was it a grisly black and white flashback of a murder? Was it Macy Gray smoking, staring dully just off center of the camera. It doesn't matter though my confusion is telling. Lee Daniel's third movie is a mad undisciplined mix of just these things: eroticized bodies, physical violence and character beats. If the film never settles down, eventually you settle into it. 

Macy Gray helps. Her voice is so evocative she doesn't even need to be singing to send you. Director Lee Daniels, wise to the specific gifts of his actresses (the proof is all over Precious), knows this.

Macy Gray is your guide through this sensationalistic scuzzy story


If he isn't always sure which movie he's delivering (a cold case murder investigation, a death wish character study in multiples, a messy civil rights period drama) he knows how to package it. He acclimates you to The Paperboy's time and place (swampy sixties summer in the south) and agitated horniness via husky Anita (Macy Gray), all wigs and cigarettes and "how much am I getting paid for this?" twitchiness.

It doesn't take Anita long before she loses her wariness, lost in the sensationalistic details of the story she's telling.  Which is not so much her story though her role as The Help gives Lee Daniels ample opportunity to graft more racial discomfort and American history on to the text than you'd find in the Pete Dexter novel its based on. The story is about crusading (and *ahem* cruising) journalist Ward (Matthew McConaughey) and his younger brother Jack (Zac Efron) who get mixed up in the lives of Death Row inmate Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) and slutty beautician Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman) who writes dirty letters to multiple inmates but settles on Hillary, a strong candidate for the filthiest person alive -- and yes, FWIW I think John Waters will love this movie -- as her ultimate prize. 

As in Precious, Daniels shows an uncanny ability to inspire his actors to dig deep enough that they're often at risking of shoveling straight through to camp. You wouldn't think any mainstream male movie star would put himself in a more compromising position than Matthew McConaughey did at the tail end (haha) of his farewell performance in Magic Mike, the one that basically ended ass up to camera, but he does. Unfortunately it's with far more disturbing and less sexy results. Efron, also no stranger to selfsploitation, seems entirely okay with spending half the picture in his underpants and engaging in a sort of masturbatory comic duet with Macy Gray. The director originally wanted his friend Oprah Winfrey for the role which is unfathomable... and hilarious. I can't quite imagine it though I can imagine her shouting "ZacEffrroOOONNNNNNN!!!!!" on her back with comic exaggeration, welcoming him to her show.

It will surprise no one who's been paying any attention that Nicole Kidman is the MVP, once again throwing herself into a controversial role with the hunger usually acquainted with actors who've waited for this big break forever. You could argue that Kidman is the cinematic equivalent of Madonna: brave, button-pushing, autoerotic, and continually willing to push herself long past the point where her peers have begun to coast or decided they're too old for this shit. Her first sex scene with Mr Cusack, both telepathic and obscene (no really), has instantly cornered the market on Craziest Sex Scene of 2012.

By now you've undoubtedly heard that The Paperboy features a scene in which Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron and a scene in which she cajoles him into dancing in the rain in his tighty whities. You've heard true. The best thing I can possibly say for this vivid messy Southern Gothic, which is always watchable but often quite unpleasant and artistically erratic, is that that those two scenes are hardly alone in their "am I really seeing this?" abandon. The Paperboy is so ripe and so rank that it's sure to be a polarizing love it or hate it film experience. Either response is fully justified but fans of outre cinema, highwire acting, and future cult cinema would be crazy to miss it.

Grade: B- which tends to be my default grade, I'm aware, when movies are trying super hard but can't always pull it together. Still in most circumstances I'd rather watch a vivid B- than a highly competent but passion free B+
Oscar Chances: Unlikely. Nicole Kidman is on fire as the beautician with an inmate fetish but crotch-centric performances are rarely golden.

Lots More Nicole Kidman

Lincoln's Noisy "Secret" Debut
The Bay An Eco Conscious Slither
Room 237 The Cult of The Shining's Overlook Hotel  
Bwakaw is a Film Festival's Best Friend
Frances Ha, Dazzling Brooklyn Snapshot
Barbara Cold War Slow Burn
Our Children's Death March 
Hyde Park on Hudson Historical Fluff 

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Reader Comments (20)

I haven't seen this yet (I'm unsure as to its release status in Australia),but I've long thought this was a John Waters movie for today. Can't wait!!!

October 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

What did you think of McConaughey's performance?

October 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJosh

So what do you think about Nicole´s performance? She has been the highlight of the film... Every review is raving her work in this love/hate movie. The comments for her performance have been stellar and she has been receiving a lot of praise... Considering this situation, how many chances you think she has to receive the nomination for Best Supporting Actress? She won´t won, I know, but I would love to see her been nominated... Thanks in advance!

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJerry

Jerry -- hmmm. i thought i was clear in the review how great she was in it: fearless, obscene, autoerotic, MVP, etcetera.

Josh -- i actually didn't love it. I feel like he missed some chances to fill in details of his feelings about other characters. But Macy & Nicole were both awesome. Zac was the best i've ever seen him but i'm hardly a completist with that one.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I really only wanted to see this for the Zac Efron in his underpants factor, but found the picture as a whole to be really fun and compelling. Definitely a shaggy dog, but I think the movie actually works better because of its weird ADD quality. By not really being about Serious Historical Subjects it actually says more about them by coming them from a side angle than something like The Help does in tackling them head on.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

Many other good movies to see, so I suggest skip this one.. I like raunch, but this was too over the top for these particular actors .. they need to choose better.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrick

Agree! Kidman is fantastic in this film. I hope that the Academy bites, but you're right... They rarely go for guilty pleasures like The Paperboy.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPat

I'm less than halfway through the book, picturing Hillary as a guy I had a crush on in high school because both characters were blond. And I think I know exactly what is happening in that group picture and I'm traumatized, of course.

Also just wondering how Yardley Acheman/David Oleyowo is like. Yardley in the book never read as black to me (Yardley has longer hair than Oleyowo, etc.) and I don't know what to feel with how Daniels makes the 'colour-blind' casting decision.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

"Golden"--haha, I see what you did there :p

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSilencio

"continually willing to push herself long past the point where her peers have begun to coast or decided they're too old for this shit."

Unfortunately, that's partly b/c she refuses to age naturally. (which at least some of her peers -- like Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett, those who are considered character-actresses -- do.)

Her performance here looks great though, and I am looking forward to see this weird, interesting movie.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercinephile

It was just too hard for me to overlook the ineptitude of the filmmaking in "The Paperboy." It bordered on a disregard for telling a compelling and coherent story. I would support a nomination for Nicole Kidman. She's aces. For a film I disliked I'm still recommending it for others to view. I think there is something to be appreciated in it that I simplyl did not.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

I think Zac is being smart to embrace smaller roles in films like this. A lot of pretty boy actors seem to want to run from their destiny of using their looks and body.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBia

I agree that Nicole's chances for a nom are pretty low given the Academy's ridiculous snobbery. They looked over Kathleen Turner's blinding brilliance in Serial Mom, just because of the way she said "pussy willows." Sigh.

October 10, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Kidman as Madonna. Genius.

October 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W

love to hear that about macy! i find her do interesting in amything she does and its rare to see her in anything now. movie sounds like something i wanna see.

October 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpoppy

cinephile, Kidman may worry about worry lines and decide to get rid of them but she is not running away from scary, monstrous characters and for better or worse really make people uncomfortable and you can't separate the actress from her creation. There is an edge to her work that is missing from Streep and Blanchett's work, where is the danger in their work? where is the harshness? aging disgracefully has nothing to do with that. Meryl is the greatest actress of her generation but how has she pushed female characterisation forward? compare Streep's work today to that of Isabelle Huppert, who comes off more exciting? Huppert.
Meryl is great yes but she seems to be getting settling and doing what she's done before.

What I like even more about Kidman is that she has not put herself in a box of "respectable actress, this is beneath me", she is hungry for ALL of it.

October 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

I absolutely loved it.....every actor in it, Nicole was at her best, I was uncomfortable but mesmerized by the first sex scene in prison......LOVED IT would see it again. Macy was great, so was Matthew (who I normally do not like). My husband feels the same although I am sure he wishes I looked and acted like Nicole!!!!

November 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTeresa Graham

Teresa -- wishes more like Nicole IN THIS MOVIE? wow! -- He likes to walk on the wild side then.

November 1, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Watching a paperboy deliver papers is much more entertaining than this film. What a waste of time and I'm a lover of movies.

January 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPhil

I loved the mood, the acting, the story. One of the most interesting movies I have seen. So good. I would recommend it.

January 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTeresa Graham
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