I think somewhere Lee Daniels really likes seeing just how much he can get an actor to humiliate themselves on camera without consequence. It certainly felt that way with Precious, a sort of blaxpoitation look at poverty that somehow managed to earn Mo’nique an Oscar and make a significant amount more than its $10 million budget. Daniels has opted to follow it up with a ’60s deep south, white trash version of Precious in The Paperboy.
Zac Efron stars as Jack, a college washout who has returned home to work for his father’s newspaper in a small Floridian town. His older brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) is back with a compatriot (David Oyelowo) to try and free a man (John Cusack) who’s been wrongly convicted of murder apparently. A death row groupie (Nicole Kidman) has gotten their attention and the film follows Jack as he aimlessly tags along his big brother’s potentially career-making story. Along the way he deals with racism, homosexuality and other taboo subjects for the time.
The problem is that the film doesn’t just descend into these topics. It wallows in them as Lee Daniels seemingly has made this into an endurance test of just how ridiculous he can go with some fairly high level actors. Scenes with Zac Efron parading around in his underwear taunting Macy Gray? Check. McConaughey as a closeted gay man into some messed up stuff? Check. Nicole Kidman dropping a squat on Efron? Check. John Cusack creeping it up to an almost unnecessary degree as a violent sociopath? Check.
The Paperboy feels like a 70s exploitation film with a bunch of novice actors being talked into doing as much humiliating, near career-ending shenanigans in the name of art that somehow managed to get in the hands of someone with a VCR. It’s almost a cinematic endurance test; how filthy can you watch actors of note? If you can last through the film’s 107 minute running time you’ll want to take a shower because of just how dirty this film gets. And you’ll want that time back because it’s just not that good of a film.
It’s a film that’s dirty for the sake of as opposed to actually contributing anything to the film. Once you remove the filth there isn’t much about this film that’s all that impressive. And it all starts with the two main actors as McConaughey and Efron don’t add anything into the film other than just being their usual sort of “movie star” personas. If there ever was a case of two actors just kind of going through the motions this would be it; this isn’t the sort of film either is going to use as part of an acting reel.
There’s an interview with the Cast as well as the director, a Behind the Scenes piece and a featurette about the film. Nothing significant is gained from any of them.
Millennium Entertainment presents . Directed by Lee Daniels. Written by Lee Daniels and Pete Dexter based off Dexter’s novel of the same name. Starring Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, Scott Glenn, David Oyelowo, Macy Gray. Running time: 107 minutes. Rated R. Released: January 22, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.