Paperboy, The

Release date: October 5, 2012
Director: Lee Daniels
Novel by: Peter Dexter
Screenplay by: Lee Daniels & Peter Dexter
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, John Cusack, David Oyelowo, Macy Gray

After becoming the critic’s darling with Precious, Lee Daniels returns with a trashy, muddled film that thankfully has Zac Efron in tighty whities to make it at least a little bearable.

The Paperboy tells the story of a newspaper reporter (McConaughey) who returns to his Florida hometown to investigate and cover possible innocence of a convicted sheriff killer (Cusack). His younger brother (Efron) tries to help, but only finds himself falling for the killer’s romantic pen pal (Kidman), who desperately wants to marry him despite having never met him.

Plenty of people try to emulate John Waters’ films and Lee Daniels tries even harder to be as sleazy and wonderful as Pink Flamingos. The result is an experimental travesty that’s one part Southern noir, one part trashy camp, and one part aimless sexual tension between miscast categories. It really makes you wonder how many drugs the people at Cannes were on when they put this In Competition.

Daniels doesn’t quite understand how to maintain a consistent tone within a movie. One minute we’re cringing, the next we’re laughing. Most scenes leave one entirely devoid of any feeling but shame that they decided to watch this. Picture this: Nicole Kidman moaning across from John Cusack rubbing himself off over his pants – this is an actual scene in the movie. It’d be alright if this, or even the hilarious moment where Kidman’s character pees on Efron’s character, actually mattered to the story being told, but it doesn’t.

The storytelling techniques used aren’t much better, I’m afraid, as Macy Gray – who happens to give a pretty good performance as Efron’s family maid – narrates a large portion of the film. It’s an absolute wonder how she knows most of these events that she didn’t participate in, and her narration becomes pretty inconsistent less than halfway through.

McConaughey, who has made an impression with both Magic Mike and Killer Joe this year, disappoints in this role, and would have likely done a much better job if Cusack had traded roles with him. Zac Efron’s first truly risqué movie choice leaves him half-naked most of the film, but demands no real acting. Nicole Kidman is the film’s only saving grace, with a gloriously trashy performance that would have been perfect had the script not entirely let her down in the latter half.

Perhaps the purpose of this film was to create a new drinking game: drink whenever anything remotely sexual is brought up, drink whenever someone is hot, and drink whenever something out of the ordinary happens. With this drinking game, The Paperboy might actually be entertaining, but there’s a good chance you’ll be dead, and maybe that’s better than watching it sober.

Rating: ★½☆☆☆ 

Juan Barquin

Just yer average twenty-something college student with no time on his hands who ends up watching (and writing) too many movies and shows for his own good.

15 Responses

  1. Camiele says:

    Yeah, and see it’s stuff like THIS that makes it REALLY hard for me to like Lee Daniels. And it’s sad, because he could be such a brilliant artist. He tries so hard to do something profound with his direction and writing, but often times he just ends up making a mess of a movie that people tout because it’s “so different”. But what people (mostly critics looking to seem “edgy”) don’t realize is “different” doesn’t translate to “good”.

    I don’t want to really see Precious because it just seems like a film that mainstream (White) America was so shocked by they wanted to make it the poster child for new Black cinema (or a sad depiction of Black life they could feel sorry for and appear truly sympathetic). I did get around to seeing Monster’s Ball. And for its all flaws and Halle Berry’s hype, it was a pretty deep film.

    Soo… it always seems hit or miss with me when it comes to Daniels. Sometimes he seems like he’s trying to be a stoyrteller who wants to expose the depths of human nature; other times he seems to be trying to be more of an X-rated Tyler Perry. He’s trying too hard to be something like Spike Lee or Quentin Tarantino, but it’s not working out, in my honest opinion. *siiiiigh* I just don’t know what to do with him. Maybe he’s still trying to actually figure out what he wants to acheive with his work…?

    • Juan Barquin says:

      @Camiele, Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh I could talk for hours about how much Precious frustrates me. It’s not a BAD movie, it’s just not a GOOD movie either. On one hand, I’m extremely glad it introduced the world to Gabourey Sidibe because she’s such an entertaining woman and I would LOVE to see her in some well-written comedies. On the other hand, I think the movie is mostly a huge mess with some positives and a whole lot of negatives. I hate using the term, but Precious is a movie that really benefited from “white guilt” all around. It’s all about making white people feel bad about everything and giving an obscenely extreme (to the point where you actually laugh at how outrageous it gets at a few points) view of this girl’s fucked up life.

      I think the issue with Lee Daniels is he is WAY TOO AMBITIOUS. The man really just needs to take a few courses in how to calm down with direction and wild camerawork and take his projects down a notch or fifty. I think he is still trying to figure things out, but when his work just continues to get bigger and bigger and more bloated, it’s almost impossible to ground yourself. And he seems to want to separate himself so much from every other important black cinema director that he just tries to be “edgy.”

      I can’t even imagine what kind of a mess The Butler is going to be with a cast as MASSIVE as that one.

      (insert a heavy sigh here)

      • Camiele says:

        @Juan Barquin, HAHAHAAAHA….. *SIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGH* Oh, Juan, my love. We are, like, the same person. I find myself constantly frustrated with Daniels. Considering how hard he DOES work, it’s just too bad that all his efforts are being over the top without any real point.

        And you’re completely right about Precious, or at least about why I just don’t want to see it. I have no time for something that’s trying so hard to by subversive that it forgets to just tell a story. Spike, Quentin…. their work is HEAVY and often times IRREVERENT; however, they are incredible storytellers who don’t let the fact they’re trying to be edgy or prove a point get in the way of getting incredible performances out of their actors and telling just a well-developed story.

        You’re also right in that he just needs to learn how to tone it down. He’s not at the level where he CAN be as bold as he wants to be because he’s forgetting the essential point of filmmaking, to tell a story. If there’s nothing there (or even so much there) that you have to overstuff the film to shock instead of enlighten, then you need to take a few classes or something.

        • amy says:

          @Camiele, (and Juan) I have to disagree with you both. I would argue that yeah, Lee Daniels’ direction can go anywhere in a rather messy way (not as messy as Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls, but close to alligators and cows in rape scenes messy LOL), but Precious (and The Paperboy) has some outstanding acting. Won’t get much into Precious territory, but The Paperboy certainly deserves much more than the rating given in this review. The change of moods in here between the awkwardness of Kidman’s relationship to Effron (or Cusack) and the bits of grotesque with dashes of dark comedy seem to work for me as I was never bored with the story or the material. The mentioning of both the scenes in prison and the peeing does seem to establish character traits for Kidman. One, there’s no denying she could be super trashy. The other one, she deeply cared for Efron’s character, unlike his father who didn’t mind using his son for a few good headlines.

          While I agree that Macy Gray’s voice over is super weird, I think both hers and Kidman’s characters were the standouts, with McConaughey following a tad behind. I liked him a lot more here than I did on Magic Mike, which I thought was trite.

          The thing about the Spike or Quentin comparison is that I don’t think Lee is trying to be irreverent. I don’t see irony being played in here, just like I can’t see Quentin’s work not being irreverent or “heavy” (whatever that means). Lee just seems to focus in getting performances out of his actors, and that’s why people just keep flocking to him. He may not be able to shoot the perfect movie, but at least the films he’s putting out feel different enough. At least more than Spielberg’s perfectly shot boring movies like Lincoln, War Horse and Indiana Jones.

          Precious and The Paperboy may not be perfect movies, but they’re also not awful. They may not be 100% good, but at least they’re not boring.

          And Cam, I’ll give Monster Ball a watch and get back to you on that one.

  2. Camiele says:

    @amy, Different is fine. But if it’s different with very little point, then it does absolutely nothing for me. His work is certainly not as boring/expected/cliche as the so-called big name directors (a la Spielberg); however, great performances with a lack of any real direction in terms of story doesn’t make a movie worth my time.

    I want to know that what I’m watching means something to the director/writer… MORE than just wanting to get together a group of actors and see how well they can interpret a messy script. Precious may have brought out great performances (especially in Monique), but from what I see of it, it’s another film that relies too heavily on the guilt of the audience and their sensibilities as far as painting the human condition’s concerned.

    As I said, Lee has sooooooo much potential, his work is so close to being something gorgeous and enlightening and powerful and shocking, but it’s that he’s TRYING to be ALL those things that he seems to lose focus and lose what a story really is. And he’s not at all trying to NOT write stories. When he wants to be, he’s a great storyteller. But from the work I’ve seen, he’s trying to put in sooooooooooo much without being able to bring it together into something cohesive, thus losing the story altogether. And considering how much work he puts into each film (getting it greenlit, getting the actors to say yes, getting funding, etc.), it’s a shame that his work isn’t more cohesive, or at least to me it’s not, and therefore doesn’t have much of an impact on me, regardless of how good the actors themselves are.

    • amy says:

      @Camiele, yeah, but you’re opinion on his work on Precious and The Paperboy is based on bits of the movies and the opinion of others that make not only hold off on these films for later watching, but actually put them down as not worth your time.

      I completely disagree on the white’s guilt angle on Precious, it may be melodramatic but it’s certainly not saying “look at these poor black folks” because that would be like saying melodramatic films like China’s Aftershock is telling me “look at these poor Chinese folks.” They’re not, they’re melodramas where bad things happen to them throughout the movies and they’re sold like that, never hiding the fact that they’re made to make you cry. And there’s nothing wrong with crying. Unlike Beasts of the Southern Wild.

      Would you prefer Lee would stop pleasing himself to please online movie critics and the audience to make the summer noir mystery they all wanted, instead of the movie he wanted? Isn’t that the same dilemma of big Hollywood blockbusters? The fact that Lee had to make a summer noir film in Florida set during that era, it probably increased his budget a tenfold. There’s no way the film can recoup those extra 11M it’s missing. I think everyone was expecting a pleasing noir with Efron, Cusack, McConaughey and Kidman, and they got trashy melodrama, and that seems to be a problem. Except for Efron who is a pretty bore (but not unbearable), all of the other characters are unlikable one way or the other. I don’t see a difference in watching these trashy unlikeable people to the ones in David O. Russell’ The Fighter.

      • Camiele says:

        @amy, I’m not saying he has to please anybody, least of all online critics, considering I don’t listen to what online critics say in the first place. I’m stating my opinion of him from what I’ve seen of his work, and that has nothing to do with what Hollywood expects of him but what I expect of a film in general. Admittedly I’ve not seen Paperboy and I’ve seen parts of Precious. And as I said, the actors themselves have no bearing on me if the story itself ends up being a hodge-podge of things that have no connection OR if it’s a film that relies so heavily on the “making people cry factor” it doesn’t at all tell a compelling story.

        If you find the stories compelling, you do. But I don’t, and find that what I’ve seen of his work is either hit or miss in terms of if he actually tells a story or if he ATTEMPTS to tell a story without actually doing it or not. He shouldn’t have to make a movie that’s not strictly his style. Make the movie you want to make, but that doesn’t mean that I have to appreciate its “newness” or difference to anything else out there just because it’s different. I don’t go into a film expecting anything but a story. If it doesn’t have much of one EXCEPT “let’s make the audience cry” or “let’s shock the audience”, then there’s nothing there for me.

        • amy says:

          @Camiele, yeah but you accused Lee’s Precious to be white guilt, which it isn’t. It’s fine if you don’t like melodrama, just say you don’t like melodrama, just don’t go and tell me a Korean (or any other country’s) melodrama is good for the same or similar reasons Lee’s melodrama doesn’t connect with you.

          My problem with a lot of the films that came out in 2012 is that they feel so distant and cold, and melodrama is at the core of other great films. The Cranes Are Flying is a beautiful cinematic experience that just happened to be melodramatic propaganda.

          Once again, except for the last 15 minutes of The Paperboy, I do not see the mish mash of things people complain about here.

  3. Camiele says:

    @amy, It has nothing to do with me liking or not liking melodrama. Again, it’s about if there’s a story, or is a movie made JUST for the sake of getting the audience to cry or getting actors to be able to interpret your script. And I’m not even saying anything about another country’s melodrama vs. Lee’s melodrama, because honestly if any other country’s melodrama does the same thing as what I see from Lee from MY PERSPECTIVE, I’m gonna say the exact same thing: where’s the story? Why should I care? Is it just because this character’s going through shit and it’s sad? Or is it because the story itself is compelling, well-written, focused enough to illicit a reaction?

    I don’t know what other people saw or didn’t in Paperboy… as I said I’ve never seen it and I don’t read what other people say. I commented on Juan’s review because he’s speaking on something that I see a lot of in Lee’s films. And, yes, I DO consider Precious white guilt. Obviously you don’t, and that’s fine. But that’s what I feel and what I see… let’s find a story that’s over-the-top crazy and pull on some heartstrings. It’s based on a true story, fine. But it’s also another damn story about a black woman who’s life is shit and who hopes and prays for a better life, etc. etc. It’s the same thing without a shred of anything unexpected, different, interesting FOR ME. It’s another film to get white people to tout how incredible it is because of “how much she struggled” and “how she made it through.” As far as I was concerned, there wasn’t anything else there.

    • amy says:

      @Camiele, I didn’t think Precious was showing that it was about a woman who hoped and prayed for shit to get better. She was given a chance and she took it. That’s the melodrama of it, that’s the story. It isn’t better or worse than any other underdog story, and in the end, 99.99% of these movies are about these type of stories – bad shit happens, people deal with it. Whether you or me find them compelling, it’s a matter of taste and experience. The fact is Paperboy is far from the 1.5 star given here or the shit 30% rating given on RT, but the success of the film is being weighed on these opinions.

      • Camiele says:

        @amy, I’m not exactly negating the fact that the film’s success is being taken into consideration. Like I said, I was only commenting on something that Juan said that relates to what I see a lot in Lee’s films as a whole. And if it’s the same as what I see in much of his work, then it’s something I’m not at all interested in seeing.

        Precious didn’t read to me as simply an “underdog” story. It read to me as a lot of these films do, along the same vein as Tyler Perry’s movies: black woman dealt a shit hand, needs to get out of her situation. And those films are played out in much the same way and it does nothing for me. It’s a very particular film with a very particular arc that I’ve grown tired of seeing. But the trope itself doesn’t excuse or explain why Lee sometimes seems to have the potential for a great story, yet either does too much or too little with what he has.

        • amy says:

          @Camiele, but Juan didn’t say much except saying that it was disastrous and that dying of alcohol drinking would be better than to watch this. As I’ve explained, Lee’s mood consistency doesn’t seem like a handicap to the story, except for the last 15 minutes of the film.

  4. Camiele says:

    @amy, It was exactly that fourth paragraph that made me add my opinion about Lee in the first place. What I commented on initially was the lack of consistency in the film and how it correlates to the films I’ve seen from him as well as what many of the scenes in his movies seem to be — a hodge-podge of images as a means to be nuanced.

    So, okay, your opinion is it doesn’t happen in this film. That’s fine and fair. I’m not commenting on this film at all because I’ve not seen it. Again, all I’m commenting on is something that I’ve noticed as a weakness in a director/writer/producer that makes me wary of watching his films. It’s why I’m wary of seeing Precious in its entirety, besides the fact that the trope is just worn out and a poor excuse to get people to claim his films as brilliant and profound. I commented as a means to express what disappoints me in the director in general and my impressions of his films.

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