The Paperboy is one of the most divisive movies of the year - it got a fair share of terrible reviews and then it got a lot of positive responses from the audience that was entertained by the film. You probably know two things about the movie - that it includes a scene where Nicole Kidman is peeing on Zac Efron (in the film's defense - it's after he is stung by jelly fish and thanks to Friends we all know what needs to be done in this situation) and that this is a movie for which Kidman got the Golden Globe nomination. The fact that not many people actually got to see that trashy little gem is in its favor - The Paperboy is a fun ride filled with unpredictable twists and turns.
The film's protagonist is Jack Jansen (Zac Efron), young, good looking man who is helping out his brother - journalist Ward (Matthew MacConaughey) and his writer friend Yardley with their work on the article. They want to write about the case of Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) - the man convicted for death for killing a sheriff. Ward insists that the trial was not fair and Hillary never had a chance to talk about his version of events and he thinks that this will make for a good story and maybe they will even manage to give the convict a second chance at fair trial.
Enter Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman). She is a trashy, slutty hairdresser who loves dangerous men. She corresponds with a bunch of prisoners whom she never even met and she falls in love with Hillary through his letters in which he calls her "his angel". Charlotte is loud, shameless and very desirable - upon seeing her Jack instantly falls for her. What follows is the series of outrageous, occasionally bloody events that you won't be able to see coming. All of this is presented in the form of the story Jensen's housekeeper (Macy Gray) is telling to the papers.
In many ways The Paperboy reminded me of terrific Killer Joe - it's definitely not a movie for everyone with plenty of shocking moments, it features Matthew McConaughey pushing boundaries again and it is filled with scenes that are bound to make you uncomfortable. The peeing scene is actually nothing comparing to what goes down in this movie - when Hilary and Charlotte finally meet in prison they are prohibited to touch. What occurs is something that the audience named "telepathic sex scene" during which Hillary instructs Charlotte what to do and she moans like an animal, with Jack, Ward and Yardley present in the room. I had only one thought during all of that - "Mother of God what is this thing I'm witnessing?"
Though the film's script is messy and many times ridiculous - which I think was by design - it is filled with incredible performances. Zac Efron, who I'm told was in something called High School Musical (which I never seen, because, well, why would I?) was good here and delivered believable performance which was quite an accomplishment - to create the role of a regular human being in the film that is this bat shit crazy is truly an accomplishment. Matthew McConaughey proves for the fourth time in last year that he is fearless - he is one incredibly disturbing scene and after that his character hits the rock bottom. McConaughey is fantastic here and it's truly mind blowing how he turned his career around.
John Cusack is one of the actors who always annoy me, but he was perfectly cast here and did a very good job. His Hilary is an absolutely despicable, violent, racist, repulsive man. But the true star of the show is Nicole Kidman. Kidman did this movie for mere 60,000$ - she wanted to work with Lee Daniels so much and she really wanted to play raw and provocative character. She recently said that she wouldn't want to look back at her career and feel as if she played things safe. "Safe" is the last word that comes to mind when you are witnessing her incredible performance here.
Her Charlotte is the heart and the pulse of The Paperboy - it's astounding that under dyed hair, tons of make up and slutty cloths Kidman manages to make her character into a genuinely sweet person. She has terrible choice in men and she is deeply flawed but she realizes that - there are many moments when you can clearly see Charlotte is not just a dumb blonde and she knows that her life is far from being perfect. Kidman never allows her character to become one dimensional and though Charlotte's actions are at times truly obscene and shameless, the things she says vulgar and off putting, you can understand why Jack is so taken with her.
What I also liked about Kidman's work here is that it had a lot of parallels to her finest performance in To Die For. While in Gus van Sant's brilliant dark comedy Kidman played more of a killer barbie who will do anything to get ahead, here she plays the barbie that was tossed in the garbage, crawled out of it and decided to do whatever makes her happy at any given time. There is even a similar scene here to the one in To Die For with Kidman dancing with much younger man in the rain. Except in To Die For her goal was to manipulate and use that man and here her good hearted Charlotte simply wants to make him smile.
The film is directed by Lee Daniels, the very same Lee Daniels who made famous Precious. If you've seen that film you know what to expect - dark, filthy, unpleasant world. I need to mention Killer Joe again - it was rated NC-17 while The Paperboy was rated R. I was shocked. I think the only reason why William Friedkin's film got more restricted rating was the nudity - there is almost no nudity in The Paperboy but it's a truly shocking movie. True, nothing in it was as outrageous as now famous chicken scene from Killer Joe, but I was disturbed many times during this, manly during sexual "encounter" that happens between brutal Hillary and frightened Charlotte. Kidman may have few missteps in her career but I really admire her - especially for her courage in taking that role and being in a scene like this one.
The fact that so many dirty things happen in this movie and that the cinematography is so gorgeously lovely really creates quite an interesting effect - the film is beautifully shot with a great retro vibe to it (it takes place in the 60s), yet what we see at times is so disgusting you don't know what to think - is it ugly? Or is it disturbingly pretty? The music is fantastic too, with a wide selections of songs that add a lot of irony and whimsical, seductive charm to the film.
Sure it's far from perfect - the story frequently explodes and we are witnessing the pieces - it's all over the place. But the truth is - this movie was one of the most entertaining films of 2012 and I think the excellent performances alone are enough to watch it and enough to call the horrible reviews the movie got unjustified. Kidman delivers one of her best performances here and if you like her acting you really can't miss her Charlotte Bless.
The Paperboy is definitely not a film for those with the weak stomach - in fact it can cause some people to run away, screaming. But if you liked Killer Joe and Precious and if you enjoy pulpy, trashy fun chances are you will like this one too.
The Paperboy (2012, 107 min)
Plot: A directionless young man (Efron) helps his reporter brother
(McConaughey) investigate the possible wrongful conviction of a man
(Cusack) on death row, and in the process, falls for the woman (Kidman)
whom the convict has been romancing through prison correspondence. The Paperboy is based on the 1995 novel by Peter Dexter.
Lee Daniels (screenplay), Peter Dexter (novel)
Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman and John Cusack