Love him or loathe him, you’ve got to admit that filmmaker Lee Daniels has some stones on him. His schlock in sheep’s clothing Precious garnered tremendous acclaim and award nominations. It also must’ve persuaded actors to wanna work with him because his follow-up film, The Paperboy, features some big names despite its uneven script and shockingly insane moments that became quickly infamous. Does the insanity onscreen outweigh the poor script? Find out after the jump with our Blu-ray review of The Paperboy.
You know you’re going to have to buckle up when Macy Gray is narrating the story. The film begins with Mrs. Gray rewinding us to Moat County, Florida during the steamy summer of 1969. A fat, racist sheriff has just been murdered. Stabbed in the belly, to be exact. After a suspiciously brief trial, local swamp dwelling scumbag Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) was convicted of the crime and tossed in prison.
There he become penpals with Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), a blonde sexpot with a fetish for incarcerated men. Charlotte believes that Hillary is an innocent man because he tells her he would rather receive than give oral sex. This kinda logic won’t hold up in any U.S. court of law but in Charlotte’s book it’s more than enough to try and get Hillary exonerated.
She gets in touch with Miami journalists Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey – white) and Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo - black), who are working on an article about the trial in hopes of freeing Hillary. We’re never sure why they’re trying to exonerate him, they just are. Ward’s little brother Jack (Zac Efron), who acts as their “driver”, falls instantly in love with Charlotte and he’s not shy about it either. Jealousies over this dimwitted sexpot flare up and underlying racial tensions show their ugly face as Jack and Yardley spar for Charlotte’s vagina.
The Paperboy is really the story of Jack and his hard-on for Charlotte. Any kind of message that Daniels was trying to say about racism and homosexuality is squandered for the degradation of the cast. I’m sorry but Macy Gray’s depiction of a wounded servant to a rich white family isn’t going to be remembered by an audience who just watched Nicole Kidman graphically piss on Zac Efron.
Kidman does deliver a funny and feral standout performance. Not just because she valiantly pees on Efron, but because she’s a damn good actress who can turn in a great performance despite its comical trashiness. McConaughey is good as always. He had an amazing 2012 between Killer Joe and Magic Mike. Between those two movies and The Paperboy you had three occasions to see his bare ass. In The Paperboy we see it after he’s hog tied and bloodied on a motel floor. After hitting on two black guys in a club, they go back to a motel and nearly kill his naked ass. See, that’s how we find out he’s gay. Because Lee Daniels is a crazy person.
Speaking of crazy person, I never knew John Cusack could pull off such an amazing one. His Hillary Van Wetter is a hunchbacked, drooling creature that’s super fun to watch. He looks like he rises up out of the swamp every morning and eats children. Being cosmetically crazy wasn’t good enough for Daniels though. He also makes him cum his pants during one of the film’s most insane moments.
As far as Zac Efron’s performance goes, he’s always in his underwear, so there’s that.
The trashy moments are anchored by great performances, giving the film a hypnotic feel – one that is constantly having the rug pulled out from under it by Daniels’ inability to focus on anything. The film is terribly uneven and character motivations are never clear. In the interview with Daniels featured on the disc (4:00), he states that this is a story that “needed to be told.” He’s referring to the racism and homosexuality aspects of the story, I think, but those ideas never shine through during the film. Macy Gray gets belittled by the elders of the Jansen family and Jack calls Yardley the N word in the roughest way possible. But none of this addresses anything new as to how racism lingered in the south after the Civil Rights Movement.
Another featurette (6:00) includes the cast talking about the film and what attracted them to the story. The consensus is that everyone thought it would be fun to play against type. Directors and producers take a risk when they let an actor do so, so Kidman, Cusack, and Efron jumped at the chance. There’s also an extended feature of cast and crew interviews (18:00) that includes footage from the other features. Come behind the scenes footage (7:00) of Daniels directing is thrown in to round out the set.
Millenium Films presents The Paperboy in 16 x 9 2.35 widescreen with 5.1 Dolby True HD. The hazy colors of the Florida heat contrast nicely with the darks of the swamp. You can see every bead of sweat drip sharply off the actors’ faces. Every bright dress and lipstick color Kidman wears pops particularly nicely off of the screen. The 5.1 mix is fine – there’s really nothing spectacular to point out about that.
Overall, everyone should see The Paperboy at least once so they can say they saw it. Hats off to Lee Daniels for getting his actors to “go there,” let’s just hope for his next film he’s more interested in telling a coherent story than showing bodily fluids.