Written by Lee Daniels and Peter Dexter
Directed by Lee Daniels
Starring Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey and John Cusack
Jack Jansen: I smell awful.
Anita Chester: That’s because that blonde lady peed all over your face.
If you like the idea of watching a movie where pretty boy, Zac Efron, parades around in tattered white briefs, covered in dirt and sweat, most of the way through it, then THE PAPERBOY is the movie for you! Fortunately for me, I’m a big fan of any movie where Efron strips down to his bare essentials, especially when said movie actually pushes the young actor past his squeaky clean, good boy image. It is refreshing to know he is interested in doing something more with his career than dancing in gymnasiums and headlining Nicholas Sparks pseudo-romances. I’m not sure getting peed on by Nicole Kidman was what he had in mind when he sought out grittier fare, but he didn’t seem to mind it all that much.
Writer/Director, Lee Daniels’s follow-up to his breakthrough Oscar winner, PRECIOUS, will certainly not earn him the notice and accolades his last film did, but it does solidify him as a director with a clear voice and talent that deserves to be recognized. THE PAPERBOY, based on the acclaimed Peter Dexter novel, is pure trash, but in a good way. It’s the kind of tawdry experience that wears it’s campier elements so boldly and proudly on its sleeve, you might confuse it for actual garbage. Get in on the joke though and it becomes a delightful game, where in order to win, Daniels must constantly top himself with one bewildering atrocity after another. Amidst all this melodrama, and I assure you, there is plenty, there is an actual plot. A convicted murderer (John Cusack) is having his case reinvestigated by a local journalist (Matthew McConaughey) at the insistence of his fiancee (Nicole Kidman, who is deliciously dirty). Efron plays younger brother to McConaughey and is just there to soak it all in.
Daniels must be an incredibly trustworthy individual. Not only does he get A-listers like Kidman and McConaughey to put themselves in shockingly compromising positions (I wasn’t kidding about that urinary, jellyfish-related incident between Kidman and Efron before), but he also has a knack for getting the viewer on his side despite, the difficult circumstances he immerses them in. THE PAPERBOY may not be anywhere near as emotionally devastating as PRECIOUS was, but by surrendering fully to the trash-tastic (and often racist) nature that the 1960’s deep American south setting requires, it becomes a spectacular homage to a style of filmmaking that has sadly long been forgotten.