I might as well admit to you all, I’m a fan of Zac Efron, not because of his acting skills but rather I’m a little taken by his stunning eyes and his physique. Last night, as a friend and I were waiting to see his new film The Paperboy, I joked that even if the plot was bad, just seeing Efron would give it some redeeming value. An hour and forty five minutes later, I thought about recanting my statement.
The film, directed by Oscar®-nominated director Lee Daniels (Precious), is a sexually and racially charged film noir set in South Florida during the 1960s. The Paperboy is based on the provocative bestselling novel by Pete Dexter (Mulholland Falls, Rush). Investigative reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) and his black writer/ partner Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo), from the Miami Times are in Moat County, Florida digging into the murder of a corrupt and racist local sheriff.
Ward and Yardley, are out to prove the convicted killer Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) is innocent, while gaining notoriety for their sensational story. Wetter, a backwoods redneck from the swamp, has a violent history and with the exception of Ward, people aren’t exactly lining up to look into his case. Assisting them with their investigation is Charlotte Bless, Wetter’s girlfriend. Bless is an unbalanced, obsessed death row groupie played by Nicole Kidman.
Jack (Zac Efron), Ward’s younger brother, dropped out of the University of Florida and delivers papers for his father W.W. Jansen. (Scott Glenn) Eager to be close to his big brother and a part of the action, Jack agrees to chauffeur around Ward, Yardley and Charlotte. Young, impressionable and horny, Jack falls in love with Ms. Bless, chasing her like a puppy with a new bone.
As their housekeeper Anita (Macy Gray)describes Jack’s infatuation with Bless in her narration, “She’s like his mama, his high school sweetheart and an oversexed Barbie doll all in one.”
The plot’s direction is as moody and indecisive as my four year old. It’s like they were cooking with too many good ingredients (i.e. talented cast, Oscar nominated director, a whodunnit, comedy and racial drama) without a tested recipe. The result was a movie with drama, graphic violence, racial slurs and a whole lot of camp that, if not for the provoking scenes, comes across as an artistic Calvin Klein ad starring Efron in his tighty whities.
Personally, I found myself feeling uncomfortable more often than entertained. While many will talk about the awkward jellyfish scene with Efron and Kidman, where she saves his life by urinating on him, others will talk about the prison scene. When Charlotte meets Hillary for the first time, he orders her to rip her pantyhose at the crotch, as they simultaneously masturbate in front of Jack, Ward and Yardley. It felt like everyone in the theater were either holding their breath or shifting uncomfortably in their seats, during that scene.
While Cusack and Kidman delivered stellar performances in this twisted film, they just weren’t enough to redeem the floundering plot. But if Daniels’ goal was to shock and awe moviegoers into talking about the film, he might have hit the bullseye. In the end I think that The Paperboy is going to be a film that you either love or hate.
I attended a press screening of this film at no cost to me for purposes of this review. All opinions are my own and no compensation was received.