Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Paperboy (15)

We have a simple rule here at Popcorn Towers - write the review of the film as soon as possible after seeing it. Why?

Because we want our reviews to be fresh, instant, as immediate an emotional reaction to the celluloid experience as it's possible to achieve. It's our thing.

That's why.

Which is where The Paperboy has caused us a few problems.

Not only could I not write the review ASAP (got taken for dinner afterwards - a prawn chili pasta dish, thanks for asking), but as I left the cinema I had no idea what I thought about Lee Daniels' latest work. Genuinely no idea. Not a sausage.

And now, sitting here, A Pale Horse Named Death assaulting my ears, tea a-cooling upon my desk, I'm still not sure. I liked it, I know that, but I have no idea why. And I have absolutely no idea what the film was about.

Well, that's not true, it's about Zac Efron is what it's about - but I'll come to that shortly...

Lets start at the beginning.

Based on the award-winning novel by Peter Dexter, The Paperboy is reportedly about two journalists (hometown boy Ward Jansen, played by Matthew McConaughey, and Yardley, played by David Oyelowo) who arrive in Lately, Florida, in the summer of 1969 to investigate and report on an apparent miscarriage of justice. Their interest in the story stems from Charlotte (a filthy-gorgeous Nicole Kidman), a sexually liberated sort who has decided that the incarcerated Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack, channeling his inner-nutjob) is innocent and should be freed so she can marry him.

Alongside all this, we have Ward's brother Jack (Efron), a tortured soul who is still coming to terms with his mother leaving without so much as a goodbye. He spends his days moping about in his pants, annoying his one friend in life - the family maid Anita (played brilliantly by Macy Gray), and delivering papers for his emotionally-distant father.

With me so far?

As the story unfolds, we learn that, other than Charlotte, people don't much care if Hilary is innocent or guilty - the police got the man wot killed the nasty sheriff, ta - and that Hilary is madder then a box of frogs. We also learn that racism is rife, that getting to the truth is harder than you'd think, and that pissing on Zac Efron cures jellyfish stings.

Still with me?

We also learn that Efron has a wonderfully sculptured physique. And that he looks good in just his pants. Or trunks. Or open shirt as he broods in the Florida heat... And that's where the problems start to unfold.

You see, the book is about journalists searching for the truth - but that doesn't come across here, because there's too much else going on.

On the positive side, the performances are great. Kidman is sassy, brassy and has brought all the sex appeal and allure she left at home when making Eyes Wide Shut. McConaughey and Oyelowo play well off each other, while Gray shines (and arguably steals the show). And Efron is good with what he's asked to do.

It just doesn't feel like he was asked to do much more than, as you may have guessed, look good in his Y-fronts.

And that's a big issue. In making Efron the focus of the film, the film loses focus. It seems to want to be a gritty, Tenessee Williams-esque period crime thriller (the grainy celluloid feel is certainly a nice touch), so why then do we have a beach scene taken from a mid-60s surfer flick? Why is one sequence clearly taken from a 70s exploitation movie? Why are we switching so erratically from static cameras to Cloverfield-style shakey-cam? Why are so many shots seemingly looking at nothing or blocked by a stray hand? Why is the use of symbolism so bloody obvious? (A sex scene inter-cut with shots of farmyard animals? Really? Oh come on...)

And who is the film about?

Over the surprisingly short running time (it feels like a REALLY long film), we manage to piece together what makes the characters tick - but it's a jigsaw. The pieces are scatterd all over the place, and as you start putting together the Jack bit, you realise you're missing the Ward bit, and as that starts to take shape you're find another piece of Charlotte...

And every character - Anita aside - is flawed. One of them could keep Jeremy Kyle in work for a year, but this lot all come with so much baggage they'd be barred from boarding by Ryan Air. And that's a real problem.

You can't get to grips with any of the characters in any real depth, because you're trying to get to grips with too much. It's like every course on the tasting menu has been super-sized. Twice.

And the whole thing being narrated by Anita is a massive issue, as you find yourself constantly asking just how the hell could she know that most of it happened?

And still I didn't hate it.

Bits of the film stay with you, mulling away in the dark recesses of your swampy mind - and not just the more 'infamous' bits (Kidman having an almost comical orgasm on a prison visit and later curing a jellyfish WILL feature in certain tabloids, mark my words).

But what's it about?


It's about Jack's abandonment issues and obsession with Charlotte. Only it's not.

Because it's about Charlotte's chasing of the fantasy of the perfect man without having to actually get involved with reality. Only it's not.

Because it's about Ward's inner demons and struggles. Only it's not.

Because it's about the alleged innocence of Hilary and a quest for justice. Only it's not.

Because it's about a black man (Yardly) trying to make it in a white man's world (journalism/Florida in general). Only it's not.

What you can say, without fear of contradiction, is that The Paperboy is about two things - a director's clear fascination with the physique of Zac Efron, and 107 minutes long.

And I still can't believe I didn't hate it.


  1. Not just farmyard animals, but a dead possum too. Did you catch that part? They cut to a dead possum in one of the sex scenes. I'm still trying to figure out that one out...

  2. Ha! I clean forgot about that bit! I'm sure there was a very important message he was trying to get across there...

  3. Great review. I can't say I came out of it feeling as positive towards you as you did but completely agree with all of the inconsistencies/odd things that throw you off.

    Here's one more...

    Why does Anita break the fourth wall and start talking to us at one point, when the prologue has clearly set her up as being interviewed by someone else?

    Bizarre film, not sure Daniels had a clue what he was doing.

    1. Clearly that should be 'as positive towards it', I have no idea why it would make me not feel positively towards *you*. It's bad but I'm not sure it's bad enough to affect completely unrelated feelings. Though you never know.

  4. Nope, can't help with that one. I was having enough trouble working out how she could narrate a story she wasn't privy to