Film Review: The Paperboy

The PaperboyThere are some films that are just difficult to tear your eyes away from. No matter how revolting certain scenes are, how deplorable you find some of the characters, how much it tests your gag reflex, certain films just demand your attention and refuse to leave your retinas once they’ve been burned there. The Paperboy is one of those films.

Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) is a newspaper reporter returning to his Florida hometown to investigate inconsistencies in the case of Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), a local ne’er-do-well sentenced to the electric chair for killing a police officer. Jack (Zac Efron), Ward’s brother, is enlisted to help but when he becomes infatuated with Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), a woman who has been writing letters to and is apparently in love with Van Wetter, the whole case becomes much more complicated.

Everything about The Paperboy just screams trashy. The sweat-soaked tar pit of balmy 1960’s Florida is the perfect setting for this bunch of dysfunctional characters to go about their business in some of the most backward ways imaginable. Nicole Kidman urinating on Zac Efron is just one of several scenes that beggar belief. In fact, so preposterous are some scenes that it verges on parody; it’s difficult to know whether to laugh and cringe at it or with it. Despite that, it’s these scenes that are also the film’s most engrossing. When it’s trashy, it’s intriguing at least; when it slips into the more traditional territory of Zac Efron’s yearning heart, it loses something, as if the filmmakers felt they couldn’t go too leftfield with Efron to risk alienating his fans.

Almost all of the actors here are taken out of their comfort zones; John Cusack is hugely creepy as the clearly unhinged Van Wetter, whilst Matthew McConaughey continues his successful path away from the rom-coms that earned him a dodgy rep previously. It’s Nicole Kidman, however, who really stands out. Whilst some may find her character intolerable, the way she pulls it off should be commended. The fact that many of these characters are so extreme, all looking weather beaten or dolled up to the nines in Kidman’s case, makes Zac Efron a bit of an anomaly. He does well enough with what he’s given, but his preened good looks just don’t work for the tone of the film. He also spends a hell of a lot of time in little more than his pants, often for no good reason. Decide for yourself whether that’s a good thing or not.

The story isn’t one you’ll likely care about too much, at least not all of it; Matthew McConaughey’s Ward probably holds the most interesting story arc, but this is little more than a side plot. Investment in the actual story gets relegated somewhat, replaced by intrigue as to what trashy turn it’ll take next. There’s also a shed load going on under the surface, including race relations, closet homosexuality, Freudian Oedipal issues, and more besides, and it does feel a little overt, particularly when it’s unnecessarily spelled out to you in voiceover.

It’s difficult to really like The Paperboy but it does have something magnetic about it. It’s a little too reliant on its shock value which does detract from what’s going on, but the grime and dirt that oozes from every pore makes for an unsettling cocktail of discomfort and curiosity.

3 pigeons

3/5 pigeons

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34 thoughts on “Film Review: The Paperboy

  1. Great review, Chris! You really covered everything. I think I might check it out, even though you have it average reviews…it sounds bizarre. I’d not even heard of it!

    • Thanks Georgina! I really don’t know whether I’d recommend it or not, it really is bizarre. I know you have a taste for the slightly tasteless (in a good way!) though so you may find it a decent watch ๐Ÿ˜‰
      It is trashy to the nth degree but definitely memorable in that respect.

  2. Tyson Carter says:

    Watching this at the weekend. Nice write up dude ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Nostra says:

    So not a movie to watch on public transport then (where I do a lot of movie watching)

  4. CMrok93 says:

    Nice review Chris. Everybody in this movie is good and really playing-up the fact that they aren’t really what you’ve seen them as before, but Lee Daniels doesn’t feel all that up for the material and it’s over-the-top behavior. It’s good, just not anywhere near great.

    • Thanks mate. Yeah I definitely reckon they were all playing it up and I reckon they probably really enjoyed it. I do agree with you about Daniel’s though, he seems much more concerned with a few key scenes and little else.

  5. keith7198 says:

    Fantastic review. This sounds like the kind of movie that’s hard to review but you nailed it. I haven’t seen it but I get exactly what you’re saying.

  6. Mark Walker says:

    Great write-up Chris. I’ll be getting around to this one soon. The reviews have been mixed but I’m very intrigued by it.

  7. thedavidryan says:

    Might give this one a miss although I wouldn’t mind seeing Efron get peed on. Great review.

  8. Nick Powell says:

    I have to admit, I totally wrote this off as being some sort of weird, twisted, trashy thing not worth my time. However, reading your review made me a tad more interested. It sounds like Killer Joe meets Trailer Park Boys or something. Good review!

    • Thanks! Ya see, it is weird, twisted and trashy and you may well come out of it thinking it wasn’t worth your time but I found there was something interesting about it. By no means as good as it could have been but I think it’s better than some reviews have suggested. And I have heard it compared to both those films, particularly Killer Joe, more than once so you’re along the right lines.

  9. ruth says:

    Fine review here, Chris! Kidman’s role here reminds me of the one in To Die For, utterly deplorable but yet you couldn’t take your eyes off her. I don’t think this one and Killer Joe is something I’m interested in though.

    • Thank you Ruth ๐Ÿ™‚ I haven’t seen To Die For but Kidman does have a habit of playing slightly dysfunctional people! I remember seeing her in Birthday Girl and she was odd in that too. There are things in this that I reckon are definitely not your cup of tea Ruth! ๐Ÿ™‚

      • ruth says:

        Oh I haven’t seen Birthday Girl but Kidman does play ‘unhinged’ very well, ahah. Yeah, I don’t think I’m missing out not watching this one. Thanks Chris!

  10. sati says:

    I rated the movie a bit higher but yeah I agree with your points. I loved Kidman here, what a shame she wasn’t nominated for Oscar – she was better here than most of the actresses who did. I loved the style of the movie – this mix of sweet and revolting and the music selection was indeed fascinating.

    • Kidman was crazy! I couldn’t see the Academy giving her a nom for a film like this though, they prefer to play it a bit safer than that I feel. And that’s a good point about the music, it really helped create that bizarre mix of cool and crazy.

  11. filmhipster says:

    I’ve tried watching this a few times but can’t get past the opening interview. I’ll start it then say to myself ‘I’ll watch it later’.

    Your review is excellent Chris, maybe a third try will be the charm.

  12. Popcorn Nights says:

    Nice review Chris, enjoyed it. Think I’ll try and check this out on DVD at some point as I’m intrigued now. Efron I’m not bothered about, but the other three cast members are people I usually enjoy watching (though in terms of McConaughey the non-rom-com version). And any film with a character called ‘Van Wetter’ has to be worth seeing in my admittedly immature book!

    • Thanks Stu. Yeah I liked Van Wetter’s name too, especially as his first name is Hillary. Gutted. It’s one of those films where you might come out of it hating it but you might be drawn in by the whole thing, it’s one that could go either way.

      • Popcorn Nights says:

        Hillary Van Wetter? Fantastic! (With apologies to anyone that happens to be reading that goes by the name of Hillary Van Wetter).

      • I think anyone with that name is probably already aware of its ridiculousness. Although hopefully they don’t share the slightly psychopathic nature of their namesake in the film!

  13. Great review, man! Really want to see this. Reading how you describe it, I thought about Killer Joe.

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