Movies You Missed 72: The Paperboy
Our weekly review of flicks that skipped Vermont theaters
Nicole Kidman got a Golden Globe nod by playing a "sex-crazed Barbie doll."
This week in movies you missed: the movie where Nicole Kidman scored a Golden Globe nomination by peeing on Zac Efron.
What You Missed
Rural Florida, 1969. A corrupt sheriff was brutally murdered, and a swamp-dwelling low-life (John Cusack) has been convicted of the crime. A woman named Charlotte Bless (Kidman), who’s been corresponding with him on death row and plans to marry him, appeals to a pair of hot-shot Miami journalists (Matthew McConaughey and David Oyelowo) to prove his innocence.
McConaughey’s character’s dad owns a newspaper in the area, and his naïve younger brother, Jack (Efron), tags along with the investigation. The “paperboy” of the title, Jack strips to his tightie-whities more eagerly than Bryan Cranston on “Breaking Bad.” He falls in love with Charlotte after he watches her pleasuring herself in front of her manacled lover while simulating a blow job, and, well, things get creepier and more ludicrous from there. (You don’t want to know how Cusack reacts when his fiancée wears pants to see him instead of her usual micro-mini.)
Why You Missed It
After getting a big (not exactly positive) reaction at Cannes, this drama from Lee Daniels, director of Precious, made it to 76 U.S. theaters.
Should You Keep Missing It?
Ah, Paperboy. I had such high hopes for you. I wasn’t expecting to have a modicum of respect for you, or to take you at all seriously, the way I did the borderline-campy Precious. But I thought, “This sounds like ‘John Waters does Wild Things’ — what could be wrong with that?”
So much. Nathan Rabin of the A.V. Club said it best: “It’s as if the filmmakers combined 18 different kinds of scalding-hot peppers, yet inexplicably emerged with oatmeal.”
The Paperboy isn’t a full-fledged Southern-gothic campfest, just an incompetent movie that alternates arty affectations with over-the-top silly conceits. Daniels seems to want to portray how Southern racism infected all relationships; there’s a subplot involving Efron’s friendship with the family maid (Macy Gray) that might have been grittier than The Help.
But that goes nowhere, like every other plot thread in the film, because Daniels is too busy stopping the action to have Kidman defy her ice-queen image by doing something slutty and outrageous, or to sweep his camera lovingly over Efron’s chest again. Jack’s love for Charlotte is never remotely plausible: When the heroine is described as “a sex-crazed Barbie doll” in your movie, you have a problem.
None of the characters make sense, and, owing to long stretches of improvised-sounding dialogue, neither do many of the scenes. McConaughey and Oyelowo spend far more time gazing at each other sinisterly and/or sensually than they do investigating the case; McConaughey’s dark secret is finally revealed in a scene that should have been horrifying, not laughable.
The whole spectacle suggests high school kids with a camera trying to mash up Angel Heart, Mississippi Burning, Monster’s Ball and Killer Joe. Movie stars inexplicably participate, and everyone ends up embarrassing themselves — despite the special-feature interviews in which the stars pontificate “On Lee Daniels Being a Genius.”
Precious was an OK movie in my book. Whatever you think of the source material, it had a setting suffused with life and energy, a straightforward, coming-of-age storyline and strong performances. But this flick suggests that, when he indulges his every whim, Daniels doesn’t have much of a filmmaking future.
Verdict: Destined to be best remembered as the film where Kidman spoke the words, “If anyone’s gonna piss on him, it’s gonna be me!”
More New DVDs
The Ambassador (Danish doc about blood diamond trade)
End of Watch
Keep the Lights On (drama about a gay male relationship in 1997 NYC)
The Imposter (semidocumentary retelling of the case of a Texas boy who disappeared, then reappeared in Europe … or did he?)
Nature Calls (Patton Oswalt tries to force pampered modern kids to go camping.)
Nobody Walks (John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby play arty types in LA.)
Samsara (trippy/spiritual wordless collage of documentary footage)
Searching for Sugar Man (acclaimed doc about tracking down a legendary singer-songwriter)
Something Better Somewhere Else (indie romantic comedy told in four stories)
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (People on the internet say this Jean-Claude Van Damme flick is an unsung triumph. We shall see.)
Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)