Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron in this movie, and it’s amazingly not the scummiest scene. This is The Paperboy, adapted from a novel I’ve not read and starring a decent cast that makes me wonder why I hadn’t heard more about the film. Efron, Kidman, as well as Macy Gray, Matthew McConaughey and John Cusack star in this lurid little piece set in the deep south at the swingin’-est most racist-est fun time of the 60s.
The film is the tale of Jack (Efron) as he falls head over heels for Charlotte (Kidman), a brainless vamp who’s fallen in love with Hillary (Cusack) a man jailed for killing the bigoted sheriff in town. Jack’s brother Ward and his writing partner Yardley (McConaughey and Oyelowo) arrive in town to write a sensationalised story on the crime. Everything is told in flashback by Anita (Gray) the boys’ maid who practically raised them, and she doesn’t spare any of the sordid details.
And the film is sordid – for much of the film it revels in its trashy, high-camp affairs and goings on, and everything seems covered in a sheen of sleazy summer swamp sweat, only starring actors you recognise. But the film has one major problem, and that’s that it can’t commit to a tone for long enough to create a proper impression.
Director Lee Daniels loses his way when it comes to reconciling the gleeful trash of his movie with scenes of a serious nature like murder and rape. In an effort not to be too offensive with this material, the film grinds to a halt so that it’s drummed into the audience’s mind that this isn’t anything to laugh at like what’s come before it. One only wonders what the end result might have been if Pedro Almodóvar (who was attached to the film for some time) had seen it through.
That said, the performances are all capable – Efron makes an affable lackadaisical lead, though I wonder just how necessary it was for him to be shirtless or in some other state of undress for so much of his screen time. McConaughey is decent as the idealistic reporter and plays well off Oyelowo’s cynical and uptight straight-man. John Cusack is absolutely detestable which is exactly what’s needed, and Macy Gray is on fine form as Anita. The real standout is Nicole Kidman though, back on To Die For levels of gutso in her performance, and absolutely shedding all of her usual dignified poise in creating a brainless, horny bimbo with a heart of gold and hidden vulnerabilities.
The problem is that in being so uneven in tone, the film is listless. It’s entertaining enough, but the end result is forgettable. With a bit more willingness to offend, or a bit more devotion to its trashiness, it could have been an entirely different thing to behold. It was never going to be a great movie, with a bit more work it could’ve been a really great bad one.
The aforementioned peeing scene is much more indicative of the film than the actual trailer below it.