The Paperboy


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

The Paperboy
"The references are messy, the gestures grand."

Nicole Kidman, as a real life swamp Barbie in Lee Daniels' The Paperboy, has her heart on her sleeve, or on her false eyelashes, as the brassy blonde, beaten Charlotte Bless, who writes to prisoners for love and stumbles through a world that has no room for her. She wears a tight, bubblegum pink mini-dress, golden Lurex pants with a tiger shirt, a pastel floral sixties bikini and an orange head scarf on the beach with Zac Efron (Jack Jansen) and a jellyfish, the scene that galloped through the press before anyone had seen the movie. Kidman's performance is audaciously sexy and while she makes herself susceptible to a diverse array of harm, she transcends the abuses launched at her character through truthfulness. Kidman protects her swamp Barbie as a child would.

Daniels throws us into a deliriously hot Florida summer of 1969 and swirling images of leopard print zip back and forth to interviews in black and white, while voice-over tells us about the unjustly accused, intestines being dragged for miles, and that "black people hated the sheriff". The director said at the press conference for the 2012 New York Film Festival that he "studied every film from the Sixties and Seventies" and that Sidney Poitier was the "big reference". The movie takes a hold of memory like a fever dream. The references are messy, the gestures grand. "Is there good dry cleaning?" asks the reporter from the Miami Times, when he and his colleague arrive in the small town to investigate a murder and prove that Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), the man on death row who Kidman's character plans to marry, is not guilty. The movie is based on the 1995 novel by Pete Dexter, and the plot is disheveled, tangled, and not that important here

Copy picture

Matthew McConaughey plays one of the reporters, Ward Jansen (brother to Efron's Jack, who lives in the town where they investigate) and David Oyelowo plays Ward's colleague Yardley Acheman, with a British accent. Each man has a different kind of secret - race and sexual orientation need to be disguised in the south, as the Jansens' maid Anita (Macy Gray), who also functions as narrator, will tell you. Anita teases, too, as she recalls the tale of first love lost.

The investigative reporting takes place in a garage. If the dresses look itchy and uncomfortable on Kidman, they were, as she told me after the New York Film Festival premiere. The vintage dresses and pants also stain the narrative. Van Wetter, during a sizzling prison visit, commands Charlotte, the stranger who is his bride-to-be, to wear dresses, not pants. The very sensual game playing has to be followed by an aggressive reprimand about her vestment, to lower her beneath the man, and take the sting out of her sexuality which is too strong and threatening. Religious garment rules might flash in and out of your mind, and we're off to the next poisonous eye candy. No time to reflect much on anything.

A man is gutting alligators for the skin. Every shirt has blood on it. Mood images.

And then we discover hell. The reptile hut, with pigs, a baby and a handicapped son. A pregnant naked girl. The Acheron. Incestuous abyss. For a romanticised swamp culture, look elsewhere. Charlotte does not want to live in the morass. Nobody does.

A kind of relief comes with Efron dancing in the rain in his white underpants. Daniels did not want "the Disney boy", but rather "to inspire kids". The actor loses his on-screen innocence in pungent defeat companied by the rattling of a washing machine and swimming gators. The Paperboy is disheveled and uneven, but it is not as deeply dishonest as Harmony Korine's desperate Spring Breakers, a defloration of two other Disney stars, Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez.

Reviewed on: 14 Mar 2013
Share this with others on...
The Paperboy packshot
A reporter heads back to his Florida hometown to investigate a possible miscarriage of justice.
Amazon link

Director: Lee Daniels

Writer: Lee Daniels, Peter Dexter, Peter Dexter

Starring: Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, Scott Glenn, Nikolette Noel, David Oyelowo, Macy Gray, Ned Bellamy, Beau Brasseaux, Lorrie Chilcoat, Peter Murnik, Katarzyna Wolejnio, Camille Balsamo, Chip Carriere

Year: 2012

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Search database: