Title: The Paperboy
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Director: Lee Daniels
Three years after his Oscar-nominated dark horse Precious (2009), Lee Daniels doesn’t rest on its laurels and presents us his third feature THE PAPERBOY, an appallingly unsympathetic story (adapted from Peter Dexter’s novel) replete with unpleasant characters, this is a fare for hardcore fans only, the rejection from the mass is a big blow to Daniels and an ultra-dazzling cast, only Nicole Kidman gains some salve from her hard champion in the awards season.
The sultry southern air, luscious bodies (Zac Efron in shorts, hey, he is a retired swimmer! Nicole in a low-end prostitute costume with a blonde wig), seedy swamp (with dead alligators), all emerge preponderantly in Daniels’ late 60s’ retrospective camera shots steeped in a pervasive amber hue, it is a hormone-driven experience with censor-sensitive fodder like Oedipus Complex, graphic sex scenes, interracial gay s&m, cut-throat violence and notoriously a no-contact masturbation titillation (between Nicole and a heinous John Cusack), plus a Nicole-pissing-all-over-Zac eyeball-luring hyperbole. However, if we leave these egregiously upsetting ingredients aside, one may find the story itself is horrendously wanting its narrative gravity, the titular focal figure is Zac, the paperboy, an adolescent boy falls for a surrogate mother figure (maybe two, if counting Macy Gray’s black nanny) both sexually and mentally, the boy’s coming-of-age thread occupies a major portion of the film, and shamefully, which is also the most tacky or tedious part, the young Efron has clearly been eager to expand his acting bent, but the chemistry with Nicole Kidman can never stay under the spotlight. Daniels also stumbles in his sex-exploitation with Tinseltown’s big names, therefore, a murder case investigation about a grisly killer, the oppressive gay milieu (David Oyelowo’s character is the underdeveloped foil) and the racial tension are all being sidestepped into an inferior ranking. There are more to be told in the vast swamp, Lee Daniels only opts for an easy way out.
Nicole Kidman steals the limelight with her dishy body and discounted sexiness, her character is loathsome and pitiful altogether, very showy but divisive like the film per se. Matthew McConaughey had a great year in 2012 (but I bet 2013 is even better), his fatalist self-abuse is both wretched and horrific; John Cusack has never been so petrifying before, maybe not even worth the effort for the flat part. As for Zac Efron, the role could be an offbeat one among his repertoire, but it doesn’t mean it should be printed in his name card.
A career lapse is inevitable for almost all the directors, Lee Daniels is still a director to watch for, hopefully his next project THE BUTLER (2013) will speak for itself.