Review: Lee Daniels' 'The Paperboy' With Matthew McConaughey & Nicole Kidman Is A Disastrous Flop

Reviews
by James Rocchi
October 2, 2012 2:03 PM
24 Comments
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Many people will tell you that "The Paperboy" -- based on Pete Dexter's novel, brought to the screen by "Precious" director Lee Daniels -- is a trash masterpiece, an instant camp classic, so bad it's good. These people, these critics, are simply not to be trusted about any question of judgment for a long time based on that half-hearted ironic "endorsement" of one of the worst films of the year, never mind at Cannes. Like the patina on a bronze roof, there are two ways to acquire trashterpiece/camp/so-bad-it's-good status. One is through time, and patience, as entropy and erosion bring down the bright gleam to a more interesting set of colors and nuanced shades; the other is to spray it on artificially with a hose, with plenty of spillage and waste, toxic and cheap and jumped-up and unconvincing.

Anyone lauding "The Paperboy" as some kind of new-school "Showgirls" or "Plan 9 From Outer Space" is doing the latter; they're also overlooking turning murder, rape and racism in the '60s South into a laughing matter, which is distasteful in its own way. Set in a swampy, Southern, sweaty, socially divided and sex-mad summer of '69, "The Paperboy" is overstuffed with too many plots and themes and then festooned with loose plot threads and laughable images sticking out of it; it's like a dead porcupine, bloated with rot in the sun. "The Paperboy," in short, makes "A Time to Kill" look like "To Kill a Mockingbird."

In 1969, a Florida town is caught up in the death of its sheriff; the culprit Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) languishes in jail on death row. But intrepid reporter -- and son of the local editor-in-chief -- Ward James (Matthew McConaughey) thinks that Van Wetter is innocent, bringing his black, British fellow journo Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) back to his hometown with him to look into the case. Ward gets his kid brother Jack (Zac Efron) to drive for him -- and when Van Wetter refuses his interview requests, enlists Van Wetter's pen-pal would-be-lover Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman) as the key to get in to see him.

Detailing the plot twists and turns of "The Paperboy" would not spoil it -- you cannot spoil what's already rancid -- but it's not necessary to do so. Daniels and cinematographer Roberto Schafer shoot everything to look like an Instagram photo set on some new yellow-muck filter called "Southern Scuzz," except for the shots of Ephron working his abs or swanning about sweaty and luxuriant like some American Eagle casualwear ad. It should also be noted that Daniels ends the film's sole consensual sex scene with a winking, folksy "I think we've seen enough of that …" from our narrator Macy Gray, (like some intercut from "The Dukes of Hazzard") but lets a rape, or near-rape, go on for what seems like hours so he can blend shots of the local wildlife, including a dead possum. You know, for symbolism, and stuff.

This is not even mentioning the scene where Efron, stung by jellyfish, has Kidman protectively urinate on him in the name of first-aid. Or the laughable twist where a character has a hidden past that no one in their profession at that time would get away with. Or the fact that the relationship between Efron and Gray's maid character is phony and all too modern for the film's setting. Or how the script by Daniels and Dexter rides, in the memorable words of Steven Leacock, "madly off in all directions," with no coherency or constancy of plot, tone, character or direction. Or how our narrator is first subjective, then omniscient, and then absent, the sure sign of a rank amateur. The classic question of bad movies is "Who wrote this shit?" But we know the answer to that, usually, up in the credits in bold shameless type. What "The Paperboy" demonstrates all too well is that the better question to ask of a bad movie is "Who read this shit and thought any good could come of it, whether stars or crew or producers or distributors?" "Precious" had its admirers and detractors and some who were split down the middle; I thought it was a well-acted, overdone bit of kitchen-sink drama that really blew the lid off the social crises of the Reagan era. "The Paperboy," though, is something else entirely -- a lurid, florid, humid, flaccid and insipid waste of time and money for the audience and for everyone who made it. [F]

This is a reprint of our review from the Cannes Film Festival.

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24 Comments

  • Starla | July 31, 2013 2:18 PMReply

    I couldn't agree more. I wanted to erase this movie from my mind. AWFUL!!!!

  • Bud | May 8, 2013 11:41 AMReply

    James, James, James... You are wrong on many topics. Just because you were not a certain way with black people in the 60's doesn't mean all white people were like you, I am sure there were some that had hearts! The movie had a great plot with twist and turns and the actors were really acting. This movie didn't deserve a baby tantrum of a review from somebody that sounds like they are not mentally strong enough to handle certain scenes so they just trash the whole movie. Did it strike a nerve? Did something happen in this movie that just lands a little too close to your doorstep James? Anyhow, this movie is excellent and goes off the beating path of Hollywood.. Its a definite must see!!!!

  • Bill | March 13, 2013 7:26 PMReply

    Uneven ...great acting though...by all involved..
    as for the comment that the relationship between the Efron and Gray character being too modern..I disagree...

  • VICTURE | February 3, 2013 7:03 AMReply

    THIS IS THE MUST UGLY MOVIE I HAVE EVER SEEN!
    i wisg i didn't saw the movie!
    it was so bad withe Disgusting Szenen!!!!!!!!!
    pleas do not watch this movie!!!

  • sandy | October 27, 2012 11:24 PMReply

    Sorry.. I thought the acting was excellent by the entire cast..... and I enjoyed the movie.. but maybe I looked beyond trashing a movie just because It isn't one's" cup of tea " so to speak.. If you don't like it.. just don't watch it!!.. There are actually people in our country that act exactly like the characters in the movie.....DUH!!!!!

  • Ugh | October 6, 2012 1:59 PMReply

    The problem with THE PAPERBOY is it's fucking boring. There's only one way to really watch this movie- Skip it in theaters & wait 8 months for some guy to put a 9 minute 'Best of Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy' clip reel on youtube.

    It's a badly made, shockingly inept movie.

  • canmark | October 3, 2012 4:38 PMReply

    While I agree that the source material was weak (I could only force myself to read half the novel), I think Lee Daniels has stylistically created a film has brought out very strong reactions from critics/reviewers, who either moderately like it (for being camp, lurid, sordid, you name it) or vociferously hate it. For me, while the story is illogical, , the greasy style was like eating a sloppy bucket of chicken on a sticky summer afternoon in the swamp. Pass the wet naps, please.

  • Pat | October 3, 2012 12:15 AMReply

    Strongly disagree.
    It's one thing to trash a movie (even as toxicly as you do here), but it's completely pointless to belittle people who simply enjoyed a trashy film. Did you really feel the need to post this twice?

  • JD | October 2, 2012 9:18 PMReply

    The problem with this review: Rocchi doesn't seem to realize that the filmmakers are in on the joke. Also, as much as I am suspicious of Daniels' overall competence, this film actually benefits from his erratic, uninhibited sensibility. Clarity and discipline are not the only measures of worthwhile filmmaking.

  • CC | October 2, 2012 7:47 PMReply

    Sigh. Another day, another We-Hate-The-Paperboy shout-out from The Playlist.

  • jimmiescoffee | October 2, 2012 6:16 PMReply

    i actually find this hilarious. wait, who the hell is lee daniel's again? yeah.

  • LB | October 2, 2012 5:47 PMReply

    Another review of this film actually said those who enjoyed it should feel guilty, please! This movie has clearly touched a nerve; many seasoned critics enjoyed it and the ones that didn't always come off sounding like hectoring prudes. Anyone who thinks the movies have become smug and disgustingly bourgeois should check out this film, cause it's pure and absolute subversion, everything about it is brazenly funky and f***ked, from the editing to the cinematography, to the lives it's depicts. This is the Real walk on the wild side, without the usual patronising sentiment, and it's admirably unashamed of the crude nature that keeps the world spinning. Paperboy was made to piss certain people off and it has certainly pissed them off, however, for those less easily offended, seriously you'll love it.

  • Felipe | October 2, 2012 3:30 PMReply

    Why Playlist permits that with a critic with a full of prejudices write a review? Not only Roger Ebert like The Paperboy but Peter Bradshaw too.

  • JD | October 3, 2012 3:55 PM

    That is a ludicrous, impossibly low standard to set for a worthwhile depiction of "colour" in movies. Precious is shockingly similar to the manipulative Hollywood standards you (very vaguely) invoke. For a preferable, non-insulting alternative, try the films of Charles Burnett... or countless films made outside the United States.

  • AE | October 3, 2012 10:02 AM

    In the 'liberal' world of movies, where colour is represented by Will Smith, Denzel Washington and The Help, Precious was even more than important, crucial. It's sadly predictable that there are a vocal few still trying to shoot it down.

  • JD | October 2, 2012 9:09 PM

    This film is significantly less inept than Precious -- for whatever that's worth.

  • Felipe | October 2, 2012 8:13 PM

    Excuse me, but critics with better prestige consider The Paperboy a good and interesting movie, and I can say the film is really interesting and bold

  • James | October 2, 2012 5:33 PM

    Having a prejudice against inept filmmaking is an asset as a critic, as is having the ability to express clearly what is wrong with said film. This writer clearly has both:)

  • Chase | October 2, 2012 3:02 PMReply

    Is this a new writer for The Playlist? Don't recognize the name. If so, HAVE HIM WRITE EVERYTHING!!!

  • Felipe | October 2, 2012 8:12 PM

    Excuse me, but critics with better prestige consider The Paperboy a good and interesting movie, and I can say the film is really interesting and bold

  • ted | October 2, 2012 2:30 PMReply

    I'll be watching it FOR SURE. Indiewire is not a reliable site, critics here are just too inexperienced to be taken seriously. Roger Ebert liked it.

  • Joshua | October 2, 2012 2:18 PMReply

    Sweet mother of mercy that was entertaining to read. Put into words exactly what I felt after watching the trailer for the first time.

  • Wet Willy | October 2, 2012 2:13 PMReply

    These are the types of reviews that make me want to see movies.

  • James | October 2, 2012 5:31 PM

    Exactly. I'd rather pay $15 to see something that's so jaw-droppingly awful it's funny than to see some bland blockbuster.

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