In spite of its powerhouse cast, The Paperboy fails to deliver

In The Paperboy, a reporter (Matthew McConaughey) and his younger brother (Zac Efron) investigate a murder in hopes of freeing a man on death row. Supplied
Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy Supplied

If you’ve ever wanted to see a film in which Nicole Kidman masturbates in front of four men, urinates on Zac Efron’s face and is raped by John Cusack, then The Paperboy is the film for you.

Lee Daniels, director of Precious, shoves another “Isn’t it so great how I make pretty actors do ugly things?” film down our throats here.

The opening mockumentary interview with Anita (Macy Gray) establishes her as the narrator of a story about a young man (Efron) in love with an older woman (Kidman); his brother, the homosexual/S&M lovin’ reporter (Matthew McConaughey); and the man in prison they’re all working to free (Cusack).

Taking place in 1970s Florida, Gray plays Efron and McConaughey’s mammy. They’ve all got great chemistry together, and when Gray is onscreen she’s as natural as hell.

Sadly, the bulk of her performance lies in her cardboard delivery of the narration, which is established in the opening as documentary but quickly breaks the fourth wall by addressing the audience specifically, thus abandoning the entire concept of the mockumentary format and realism of the film/story.

It’s an egregious error that I expect a first time filmmaker to make, not a multiple Oscar nominee. Perhaps this is carried over from the source material, a novel by Peter Dexter, but it is a glaring inconsistency.

Daniels should have chosen a format and stuck with it.

Efron spends the entirety of the film wondering if you’ll get lost in his pale blue eyes or his sleek, carved body (which is shown off in multiple scenes of him parading around in his gitch and bathing suit) and when he does utter a word, it’s hilariously caked in a bad Floridian accent.

McConaughey is alright, but after watching him in four other films this year, including his powerhouse performance in Killer Joe, it’s hard to care.

Cusack delivers best here as the gator skinnin’, Tom Waits haircut wearin’ death row inmate. Appearing schlubby and dishevelled, you finally forget that he’s not actually lovable Lloyd Dobler for a few minutes.

The film also meanders around from character to character, and whose story it is is questionable at best.

The look of the film is also inconsistent, photographed with in-camera zooms and soft focus blips. It reaches for a gritty, documentary style to accompany its opening, while at other times drifts into hyper-stylized edits, fades and colours, mirroring the films of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s.

The ending of the film, a murder/chase in the swamp, reminded this viewer of the end of Adaptation and fictional Robert McKee’s words that if you “Wow them in the end” it won’t matter what type of story you tell, which made me giggle throughout the final act.

Daniels takes himself way too seriously with The Paperboy and it screams out for you to take him seriously as well.

Published in Volume 67, Number 9 of The Uniter (October 31, 2012)

Related Reads