[Review] – The Paperboy

18 Oct

Title: The Paperboy
Year: 2012
Director: Lee Daniels
Writers: Lee Daniels and Peter Dexter, based on Mr. Dexter’s novel
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, John Cusack, Nicole Kidman, David Oyelowo, Macy Gray, Scott Glenn
MPAA Rating: R, strong sexual content, violence and language
Runtime: 107 min
IMDb Rating: 6.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 39%
Metacritic: 45

Lee Daniels started out as a producer first, most noticeably on Monster’s Ball, and then made his directorial debut in 2005 with Shadowboxer, a thriller starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Helen Mirren that’s not worth anyone’s time or money. He became a name though, with his sophomore effort, Precious, back in 2009, a film that got six Oscar nominations, including Director and Best Picture nods for Mr. Daniels, and won two of those, Mo’Nique for Supporting Actress and Adapted Screenplay. So, as you might expect, people were looking forward to seeing what he did next.

Look, let me first tell you that I liked Precious a good deal, I liked the despairing grimness of that film and I thought the performances alone, which were downright brilliant across the board, made it impossible to ignore. That being said, I probably didn’t fall head over heels for the film as much as so many others did (and I absolutely hated that Adapted Screenplay win). I mean, Mr. Daniels handled that hard material commendably considering the film could have fallen through in so many places and yet it gracefully avoided any and all of those trappings, but I thought the film was a triumph mostly because of the performances and not so much because of him.

So I went into his new film, another novel adaptation this time of Peter Dexter‘s The Paperboy, with high expectations because of the pedigree but also kind of guarded because I knew from his debut that Mr. Daniels could miss as well as he could hit. And I’m afraid to say that the film, which played in competition at Cannes this year, is somewhere in the middle of his past two efforts as far as quality goes. On the one hand it’s like Shadowboxer in how the plot just veers into this unintentionally goofy territory at times, this one being just unevenly trashy and campy, but on the other hand it, like Precious, counts with some solid performances, especially the one from Nicole Kidman.

Now, I’m afraid to say that no matter how good the performances here I still don’t think The Paperboy warrants a recommendation, to be quite honest. The film has these racial and sexual undertones all over it as we go to South Florida during the 60’s and meet Ward Jansen, an investigative reporter played by Matthew McConaughey who’s chasing around, alongside his partner Yardley, played by David Oyelowo, one of those career-making stories. You see, Hillary Van Wetter, a guy from the swamps played by John Cusack, is on death row and Ward and Yardley, along with Jack, Ward’s younger brother, and Charlotte Bless, one of those crazy death-row groupies, are trying to prove that he was framed for the murder of a corrupt local sheriff.

So, yeah, once again Mr. Daniels is going into some pretty dark territory, except this time around he’s not as good as handling the balance of it all. The film is all about kind of getting into the real nitty gritty that lies beneath the Southern hospitality and find out what people are really like and them not being what they seem. But ultimately it’s a mess in execution and totally ineffective picture to be honest, with Mr. Daniels clearly thinking that he’s making true art with the way he shot the film and all and the edgy things he tackled but I honestly thought it all lacked a little bit of conviction, to be honest.

It’s a treat to watch, I’ll give this film that, in that it’s the kind of movie that you don’t see often, a lurid vision that kind of leaves you in need of a shower after you’re done with it. However, the energy that the excessively pulpy treats bring forth also means that there are a lot of times in which Mr. Daniels is all about giving us these kind of shocking moments and, by doing so, he loses so much focus of the actual story he should be telling. But, say what you may, even if you, like me, don’t think the movie works, it’s impossible to deny that energy I’m talking about, this movie is not dull for even the slightest of seconds.

This movie is out there in a way that you get a director that changes styles from one scene to the next and is totally fine with it, out there in the way that you get these actors, many of them really good ones, doing some really weird shit on screen. These actors, by the way, are fearless. Matthew McConaughey is having the best year of his career by a mile, he’s gotten me aboard his bandwagon which I thought wasn’t possible, and here both him and, less surprisingly, Mr. Cusack, give this nice character performances that see them kind of relax a bit and give the more subdued performances in a film that’s blistering with a mossy heat and campy delights. Though of course in the case of Mr. Cusack I mean he gives as subdued a performances as his role lets him, which is to say not that much.

Then there’s Ms. Kidman, my favorite part about The Paperboy. Everything that one can say about this film you can also say about her performance: totally embracing of its extreme nature, raunchy and campy, she really lets herself go in this hot mess of a movie which, most (in)famously, had her peeing over Zac Efron‘s Jack in one scene. Mr. Efron by the way, is an object of lust in this film, and Mr. Daniels’ camera follows him around with every bit of it, with these heavily stylized shots.

Jack, by the way, is also the one that offers up the single storyline here that seems to be grounded on an actual reality. His only friend is the family maid, Anita, played by Macy Gray who also provides the film’s narration and the only straight-up and calm performance, their scenes together seem to suggest this social conscience that you wouldn’t guess at if you saw the drunken and crazy going-on’s of the rest of the movie. That kind of sums it all up, the incoherent mess of moods and ideas. The Paperboy is not a good movie, but at least it’s the kind of film that goes out there, that, by being more interested in the sensational shocks than in an actual plot, at least makes for an interesting watch.

Grade: C+

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