I know you could say this about every Lee Daniels movie but what the hell was The Paperboy? Daniels’ films are frequently hot and bothered, highly pulpy explorations of important topics, ones that give in to a Dallas/Dynasty-like veneer of sleaze and suds more often than not, and The Paperboy is no different. From the constant parading of Zac Efron in tighty whities to Nicole Kidman’s trashy woman, from David Oyelowo’s misplaced gravitas to the vision of Matthew McConaughey hogtied and naked, The Paperboy is an excess of shock wrapped around a limp narrative.
Imagine a John Waters filmed stripped of self-awareness and kitsch and you’ll come close to the sensationalist obtuseness on display. There’s allegedly a story somewhere in the titillations, but frankly it’s nowhere near as engaging or hilarious as say, the sight of watching Kidman and John Cusack publicly bust a pair of nuts in front of everyone. I’m not sure how that scene was supposed to be received, but I haven’t laughed that hard in quite some time. Then he turns around and films scenes of domestic abuse, gang rape, and other salacious topics with a dead seriousness that cause tonal whiplash in-between the sun-soaked raging libido and glistening tumescence of the rest of the film.
The real reason to watch The Paperboy is simply for Kidman’s completely committed and bonkers performance. No task is too outré, no scene off limits, and she hungrily attacks her character like a feline predator. Her hair piled upon her head like a low rent Brigette Bardot, her makeup and clothing orbiting tacky, Kidman is nearly unrecognizable foremost, and it’s a heady reminder that for all of her movie star glamour and posing she’s best in dark character parts. All of this, and a scene where she urinates on Efron’s prone body after a jellyfish attack? Goddamn, find me another Oscar winning actress who’d be willing to go so gonzo, I dare you.