TIFF 2012: THE PAPERBOY Review

by     Posted 1 year, 222 days ago

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Lee DanielsThe Paperboy technically has a plot.  It’s an idiotic, rambling plot that has no level of cohesion or momentum whatsoever, but it’s a story that chronologically follows from “A” to “B”.  Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy has characters.  They’re gross, idiotic people whose actions are repulsive and ambitions are bizarre, but their repulsive behavior and bizarre ambition are consistent.  Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy doesn’t earn points just because it meets the bare minimum of plot and character since it fails on just about every level of filmmaking.  Daniels, in his effort to go big all the time, mistakes luridness for atmosphere, sweat for character, and style for substance.

The story is framed by what appears to be a reporter interview Anita (Macy Gray), a maid who worked for the Jansen family.  Set in Moat County, Florida in 1969, Jack Jansen (Zac Efron) works as a paperboy for his father’s local newspaper.  His brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) works as a reporter for the Miami Times alongside Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo), and the duo have come to Moat County to investigate the case of Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) at the behest of Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), a woman who gets off on cock-teasing inmates.  Van Wetter was accused of killing the racist Sheriff Call, but the convict claims he was busy stealing at the time of the murder.  He’s still a horrible, degenerate creep who’s clearly not right in the head, but that doesn’t mean he’s guilty of Call’s murder.

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For some reason, Ward and Yardley believe this case of injustice is so compelling that they’ll waste weeks of their lives investigating the case.  In another confusing development, Jack, who tags along as their driver, is enamored for Charlotte even though there’s absolutely nothing appealing about her.  Her makeup makes her look sexy in the same way that makeup makes clowns look funny.  The characters are consistent in what they want, but what they want is incomprehensible to anyone who isn’t white trash (Yardley isn’t white trash; he’s just out of his depth).

Everything in The Paperboy oozes.  The movie is gross characters doing gross things in gross places.  Daniels has created a filthy world because it’s a catchy style, and the cinematography follows this misguided approach.  The film is made to look like it was shot as a low-budget late 60s/early 70s exploitation picture.  However, the key element of an exploitation picture is that we’re meant to enjoy it.  We may feel guilty about our enjoyment, but no one goes to an exploitation picture just to feel dirty.  There’s not an ounce of intentional joy in The Paperboy; just grime and sadness.

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Any humor is purely a result of Daniels going so far around the bend that uncomfortable laughter is the only way to react.  When Charlotte goes with Ward, Yardley, and Jack to visit Hillary in prison, she’s not allowed to touch him.  So her solution is to give him the air-guitar version of a blowjob.  She spreads her legs, mimes fellatio, and then we see Hillary jizz in his pants.  It’s not enough for Daniels to simply show us Hillary’s orgasm-face.  No, we have to see semen stain across Hillary’s pant leg.

I don’t know what Daniels has against his actors, but he has gone out of his way to make them look as unappealing as possible.  If you’ve ever found Nicole Kidman attractive, The Paperboy will make sure to douse that fire for all eternity.  I can’t think of any reason why Daniels would include a scene of Charlotte pissing on Jack because he was stung by jellyfish*.  Like the air-guitar-blow-job scene, Daniels could shoot around the gross stuff if he wanted, but he’s so desperate to leave an impression that he lingers on urine drenching poor, unconscious Jack.  So if you ever wanted to see Nicole Kidman pee on Zac Efron’s face, Lee Daniels has answered your bizarre and oddly specific prayer.

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The motivation for including scenes in The Paperboy seems to make sure they’re icky.  If a scene doesn’t churn your stomach or insult your intelligence, then Daniels feels he isn’t doing his job.  There’s no time to waste giving the scenes any connective tissue and having them progress like a real story.  Little things like “Understanding How the Characters Feel” are handled by Antia simply telling us in her narration.  And even her narration is screwy since halfway through the film, she acknowledges that we’re watching a movie, and that we shouldn’t spend too much time watching a sex scene.  While I don’t disagree with her assessment, it completely switches the framing device with no explanation as to why.

The Paperboy isn’t Daniels trying to shock us out of complacency.  Some moments are too stupid to ignore, but for the most part we remain unengaged as the film slithers along to the next idiotic moment.  Daniels took us to a horrible place in his last film, Precious, but it fit the setting, and was counterbalanced by the character’s desire to break free of her awful circumstances.  The Paperboy wallows in its wretchedness like a pig in shit, and if there had been a scene where a character wallowed around in a pile of shit, it wouldn’t have been out of place.

Rating: F

*For the record, peeing on a jellyfish wound only makes things worse.  Pee does not contain healing properties.

For all of our TIFF 2012 coverage, click here.  Here are links to all of my TIFF 2012 reviews:




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  • Mars

    Racist.

    • Robbie

      Haha this gave me a good laugh before I went to bed.

  • Anonymous

    ive never seen someone hate more movies than this asshole goldberg. Ive never seen this movie or heard of it but I cant take this guys opinion seriously on anything because his head is so far up his ass. Hes the guy from work who you tell to meet up with you and your freinds at the bar and then proceeds to ruin the night. ‘pff this music sucks, why dont they play some music that no one has ever heard of and therefore makes it cool. this beer sucks why dont they have rarer beer that no one has ever heard of therefore making it cool. Let me tell you why this place is decorated wrong and needs to be closed down for being shitty.’ All the while everyone else is having a great time. Matt Goldberg is the guy you don’t become friends with. i read his reviews only because im twisted and find enjoyment in getting pissed.

    • Dan

      I work in the industry and was unfortunate enough to see a screening of this at a festival a few months ago. I can honestly say this review is the most on the money of all those I’ve read so far. I despised it. It really feels like Daniels’ hasn’t a clue what he’s doing with the story which, I’m told, is gripping in the book. There’s no reason for you to value my opinion either, but I’m usually quite positive about films, knowing first-hand how hard they are to make. Nevertheless this ranks alongside Funny Games US for me, unwatchable, lazy rubbish masquerading as ‘high art’.

    • Um

      YOU have NOT seen the movie MORON!
      the worst piece of crap I have ever seen.
      If not for my guest, I would have walked out. It was a total mess, editing, the story: what story?
      the worst ever!

  • Coach

    You guys are really trying to draw readers by trashing every movie these days

    • Grayden

      actually, the majority of Goldberg’s TIFF reviews have been very positive. This is a stark contrast to what has been reviewed so far that it might legitimately be as bad as he’s saying.

      • Dsimolke

        Yeah, really. I have to agree with Grayden on this one. Goldberg’s been a hell of a lot more positive about the TIFF movies this year than most critics. And by hating on Goldberg (in an unfounded matter at that) you’re doing EXACTLY what you’re getting mad at him for supposedly doing. So, by being so overly negative about him you make yourself look twice as idiotic. Congrats. The guy may not be the best writer in the world, but he’s certainly not a pretentious hipster. He OFTEN rates mainstream movies well, and even includes them in his top ten a fair amount. I often disagree with him, but this bashing is just absurd. Especially by Anonymous, who I can only hope is making such a comment to indulge his own self-professed “enjoyment in getting pissed.” His thoughts are pretty clear, and he’s consistent in his tastes and reasoning. You can’t ask for too much more, even if someone isn’t your favorite critic. Which is fine, but this approach clearly isn’t.

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  • Bryce Forestieri

    LOL this movie sounds awesome. i’ll give it a go

  • um…

    this movie was great. no idea what you are talking about

    • Strong Enough

      fucker you never watched it. stfu

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  • Stephen

    I am sure it is not that good of a movie, although many are praising Kidman’s character in it. However, everyone that just wants to shit all over Goldberg really needs to find a new hobby or website. I feel like every review I read of his, that in the comments section there are always people that hate what he is saying, routinely, the same people. It seems like you all just want to hate the writer than the movie that you probably did not watch in the first place. Go somewhere else troll or try to value how hard it is to write an honest review of a movie & still keep you reading audience satisfied enough to come back to the site!

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  • Natalia

    What means Rating F? Failure? F***?

    I can’t say anything bad about the way Matt is writing his reviews. I think he is very knowledgeable, clever and fair. You can agree or not with his point of view but you can’t deny his ability to present his thoughts very clear and precise. I respect his works very much. Mr. Anonymous, your writing, however, is horrific. Anyway, I saw this movie in Toronto, maybe even at the same time as Matt. I didn’t get such negative feelings about the movie, but I am not a movie critic (although, maybe I should be). Most of what I felt was deep sadness for everybody involved. Story was strange and sad. I didn’t feel that I needed to know it, but I had and it made me sad-sad. I could tell that actors rather enjoyed their performances and I’m sure if I’ll have a chance to ask Zack Efron of his experience, he’d be at awe of Nicole and her presence in this film. Everyone seemed to to their best to be ugly and loathsome or just pathetic like Jack (Efron). I think in that regard everyone succeeded. I didn’t read a novel, but again, why mix two different things. Movie is an adaptation. It is definitely not a “date movie” or “lets go to see something fun this weekend” movie. It’s all other kind of movie. Like “Precious”, I didn’t want to see it, I saw it and I still don’t want to see it … Please forgive me for somewhat strange way to present my way of thinking, English is not my native language.

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