When I say that The Paperboy is not a film for everybody I mean I want to see this film sitting in a theater where patrons aren’t constantly coughing. I want to be situated amongst audiences that are hip to the twisted cultural roots of society that director Lee Daniels is exploring. When I mentioned Russ Meyer after a recent screening with publicists and critics alike I produced blank stares. But you don’t have to have heard of Meyer to appreciate a perverted tale of murder wrapped in layers of swamp sweat and unnatural desires.
And if the name of Meyer pops up in conjunction with The Paperboy your humble scribe would veer towards a title like Rope of Flesh (aka Mudhoney) as opposed to say Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (By the way that last title looks like some secret internet password where they make you use letters and/or symbols and numbers.) The Paperboy doesn’t just celebrate a white trash lifestyle so much as cultivate a feeling that extends to the audience through the actors. Those on the screen and those watching same are out of their comfort zone.
Daniels directs (and co-wrote) The Paperboy from Peter Dexter’s novel about a murder in a backwards Florida town in the 1960s. Zac Efron walks around in his underwear most of the time and maintains an almost virginal stance despite his infatuation with Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman). Bless herself is obsessed with an inmate convicted of the plot’s murder, a greasy slovenly hellhound played by an unruly John Cusack. Matching the previously mentioned actors are Matthew McCaughey (going places he didn’t even travel to in Killer Joe), Scott Glenn, David Oyelowo, and Macy Gray. Gray’s character brackets the film with narration and a conscious. You get a group like this together and it’s a matter of time before there’s more than one murder.
The Paperboy, opening at the River Oaks Three this weekend, was shot in the style of a drive-in movie. Sometimes the colors look washed out by the murky bayou waters it depicts. And the lenses appear cheap but then Kidman will appear in a bright gaudy pantsuit and throw you off balance. Sometimes the editing flows like a kind of ‘60’s experimental design that zooms, flashes and remembers. So what have we really learned from The Paperboy? Well, an alligator’s eye glows in the dark and to combat a jellyfish sting you piss on the infected area.
— Michael Bergeron