Movie Review

High camp or high art, 'The Paperboy' is riveting

CorrespondentNovember 1, 2012 

Film Review The Paperboy

This film image released by Millennium Films shows Matthew McConaughey, left, and Zac Efron in a scene from "The Paperboy." (AP Photo/Millennium Films, Anne Marie Fox)


  • The Paperboy B Cast: Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, John Cusack Director: Lee Daniels Website: Length: 1 hour, 47 minutes Rating: R (sexual content, violence and language)

The latest example of the “God’s Little Acre” school of Southern-fried sexuality and grotesquerie, director Lee Daniels’ (“Precious”) film is one very strange piece of work.

Overheated, violent, stereotypical and often very funny – although it’s hard to tell if the humor is intentional – “The Paperboy” is either a brilliantly cagy art film or a camp masterpiece. Either way, it’s impossible to take your eyes off it.

Ostensibly a mystery about an intrepid Miami reporter (Matthew McConaughey) investigating what appears to be the wrongful murder conviction of a greasy swamp rat named Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack, working overtime to be utterly repulsive), the tone of the film is really set in motion by the appearance of Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), a woman who has fallen in love with Van Wetter by mail, and is described by one of the film’s characters as an “oversexed Barbie doll.”

Well, yeah. Kidman’s character dresses in House of Peckerwood designer couture, which consists of garishly colored tight dresses, push-up bras and DayGlo lipstick shades. She’s a sight to behold. And give Kidman credit: She’s not only asked to perform a scene in which she masturbates for Cusack during a prison visit, but she has sex while shoved up against a washing machine and urinates on Zac Efron (playing McConaughey’s younger brother) in an effort to help him after he’s bitten by a jellyfish. It’s either Kidman’s most brazen and gutsy performance, or her absolute worst.

The fact that you can’t quite tell says a lot about this wackadoodle film.

But wait. There’s more. David Ayelowo appears as McConaughey’s writing partner, a sarcastic Brit who is not quite what he seems. There’s also a homosexual rape and the graphic gutting of an alligator. And then there’s Macy Gray, playing the Efron family’s housekeeper. She’s the film’s narrator, and her droll, sassy performance practically steals the picture out from under its more famous performers.

Based on a novel by Pete Dexter – who co-wrote the screenplay with Daniels – “The Paperboy” wallows in its eccentric characters, bizarre situations and highly sexualized material.

But it’s hard to tell if its tone is deliberate, or just the result of bad direction. That’s because Daniels seems to have a penchant for preposterous storylines no one else will touch – his 2006 film “Shadowboxer,” in which Cuba Gooding Jr. and Helen Mirren play contract killing lovers (I kid you not) being a prime example.

Like “Shadowboxer,” “The Paperboy” is impossible to take seriously – it’s just too lurid and over-the-top. It’s also filled with enough Southern clichés to tick off any true son or daughter of Dixie. But darned if I didn’t enjoy every last second of this film. It may be junk, but it is junk of a particularly flavorful order. And believe me, the sight of Kidman sashaying around in her candy-colored Capri pants is definitely worth the price of admission.

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