The Paperboy

PhotobucketCharlotte Bless is a needy blonde femme fatale who writes to prison inmates. She’s fallen in love with one – Hillary Van Wetter, a criminal on death row for the murder of a corrupt local sheriff. Over their correspondence, she believes he’s innocent. In an effort to prove his innocence, she enlists the help of Ward Jansen and Yardley Acheman, two investigative reporters from the Miami Times. Along the way, she also incurs the affections of a young admirer.

The Paperboy is one of those long, hot summer style Southern melodrama’s that sounds like something Tennessee Williams might write but in the hands of director Lee Daniels it becomes a muggy, salacious mess. Don’t get me wrong. There are some genuine moments of acting and tenderness buried under the tawdry hodgepodge. Most of them belong to Nicole Kidman, who gives a better performance that this film deserves. Even Zac Efron is surprisingly charismatic as the shiftless college dropout that lusts over/is in love with Charlotte, the aging blonde Barbie doll.

It seems as if any time a moment of tenderness or drama begins, it’s undercut by some sleazy revelation that completely wipes away the beauty of the scene that came before it. I’ll give an example. Charlotte brings Jack, Ward and Yardley to meet with Hillary in prison. The “paperboys” are there to interview the man charged with murder but Hilary is more concerned with indulging his sexual desire with Charlotte. The guards have insisted the love birds to remain apart. However that doesn’t stop the two from contorting their faces as if in the throes of passion. They moan and quiver all while seated across the room from one another. It’s an embarrassing display that will either provoke laughter or disgust. That’s one scene. There are at least 4 more comparable to that. I won’t even reveal Charlotte’s home remedy after Jack suffers an allergic reaction from a jellyfish sting, but you’ve probably already heard about it since it’s The Paperboy’s most talked-about scene.

The Paperboy is highlighted by a game cast ready to throw caution to the wind. Unfortunately the trashy script is too often fixated on the unsavory details of Pete Dexter‘s 1995 novel. Like the Texans in Killer Joe, this recounts the sordid lives of a group of southerners, this time in Florida. The Paperboy is sort of a companion piece released only two months after that movie.  Both casts include Matthew McConaughey. He’s fine as are the rest of the actors, but the real revelation is Nicole Kidman. She proves adept at conveying this hopelessly lost southern creature with an authenticity that far exceeds the quality of this film. There are some nice moments of genuine realism in the narrative, but they really don’t add up to the sum of their parts. Too often the narrative gets sidetracks on unnecessary deviations that derail the story. A bizarre late development that sheds light on McConaughey’s character is introduced just as things should be wrapping up. People willing to suffer the ridiculousness, should find this kind of fun. Personally, I had had enough by the end. There’s still plenty to delight more forgiving viewers. And any movie that unearths the 1973 chestnut “Show And Tell” by Al Wilson can’t be all bad.

19 Responses to “The Paperboy”

  1. Interesting review, i haven’t seen this one yet but Kidman seems to be the only thing people are talking about when it comes up. Probably will leave it for later, still have to catch The Master and Amour first


  2. “The Paperboy is highlighted by a game cast ready to throw caution to the wind” Nice line… there was certainly some talent on the cast too.

    I totally agree with you about this one. “muggy, salacious mess” and “tawdry hodgepodge” are perfect blurbs for a TV promo. LOL 😀

    Nice review Mark.


  3. “Don’t get me wrong. There are some genuine moments of acting and tenderness buried under the tawdry hodgepodge.”

    Haha! I was afraid this would happen with this film. You know I’m avoiding it, simply because it has Zac Efron. He was Taylor Lautner of three years ago–some “actor” he is.


    • Zac Efron underplays here, that is he acts with subtly and restraint. I think he is a better actor than Taylor Lautner. Hairspray was a wonderful film and I’ve heard good things about Me and Orson Welles.


  4. Glad you didn’t hate it! I was entertained by the film and enjoyed the atmosphere Daniels created. Kidman was really fantastic here, one of her better performances.


  5. I really had no interest in seeing this because so many critics said it was the worst film of all time (or other hyperbolic nonsense). But it really wasn’t THAT bad. I agree that Kidman was a real revelation. She went all in there. I kinda dug it.


  6. This was a twisted movie. All over the place. Nicole Kidman and Zac were very good. 2 1/2 stars.


  7. GaryLee828 Says:

    Good review – but one aspect I feel you overlooked was the performance from John Cusack. HAVE WE EVER SEEN HIM LIKE THAT BEFORE??? I was blown away at how different of a character he not only played, but frankly knocked out of the park. He totally sold the character. If I had read in advance about the kind of character Cusack was playing I would have not only been skeptical, but I probably would have laughed at the very notion of Cusack pulling off such an atrocious and sleazy role. I think he did so well in fact that he should have been given an Oscar nomination. And honestly, the ending? It really surprised me. I was not expecting that to unfold that way. The movie definitely had its faults, and was slow in parts, but overall I left feeling like I just had an experience – largely due to the finale I had not seen coming.


    • One of the things I mentioned in my review was the campiness of the film. John Cusack was very much a part of that. He seemed a bit comical to me even though he was supposed to be an evil character. I never could make the leap to believe he really was that guy.

      Agreed that the whole picture was definitely an experinece though.


      • To me, the thing that stood out was John Cusack’s performance. Yeah, his character was a bit over-the-top, but effective nonetheless. I think we may have a pretty interesting debate on our hands. We need to get some other people’s opinions. But you know what else surprised me was I think Macy Gray was excellent. You think?


    • Agreed. Director Lee Daniels seems to have a real rapport with his actors. One of the things that makes him so effective is his ability to extract great performances from his cast. See Precious for more examples.


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