The Paperboy is a hot mess. ”Hot” because it contrives to get Zac Efron out of his clothes as often as possible. ”Mess” because it’s entirely lost in the pulpy, trailer-trash world it creates. Somewhere under that trashy veneer, perhaps there’s some semblance of a coming-of-age tale, but director Lee Daniels seems too engrossed with slummy shocks to pay attention.
And, oh, does he cram in the shocks. Would you like to see Nicole Kidman pee on Zac Efron? Or simulate a blowjob in a prison? Or let a John Cusack toss her salad? When it comes to sexual depravity, The Paperboy has it all.
The Paperboy: Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron
It would be one thing if Daniels aimed to accomplish anything with all this sort of wanton excess, but he doesn’t. The Paperboy‘s hazy, meandering excuse for a plot drowns in a flood of urine, semen and sweat. It’s not a story — it’s a bundle of loosely related moments. Jack Jansen (Efron), a college-dropout-turned-apathetic-paperboy, falls in love with Charlotte (Kidman), a trampy Barbie Doll of a woman. Charlotte wants to marry a convicted murderer (Cusack) whom she’s never met, but writes her vulgar letters. Jack’s older brother (Matthew McConaughey, a big-shot journalist with an effete reporting partner (David Oyelowo), is after a huge scoop that’ll let Charlotte’s boo out of prison. Macy Gray — yes, that Macy Gray — plays an inexplicably omnipotent maid who narrates all of these bewildering happenings.
The Paperboy is rife with a deplorable sort of heavy-handed commentary. Daniels intersperses a rape scene with shots of pigs rooting in filth. Musical interludes appear out of nowhere to smash you over the head with meaning, and then descend back into nothingness. Kidman’s golden shower — the silliest of silly moments — is treated with such an intense, lurid fascination, you’d be forgiven if you mistake the scene for something out of a decades-old, low-budget porno.
Don’t be tricked into believing The Paperboy is worthy of the praise it will surely get in the coming months. It’s a sloppy excuse for Oscar bait, and it doesn’t deserve serious consideration. It’s not art, it’s camp.