Movies: ‘The Paperboy’

…though, her role as The Help gives Lee Daniels ample opportunity to graft more racial discomfort and American history on to the text than you'd find in the Pete Dexter novel its based on. The story is about crusading (and *ahem* cruising) journalist Ward (Matthew McConaughey) and his younger brother Jack (Zac Efron) who get mixed up in the lives of Death Row inmate Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) and slutty beautician Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman) who writes dirty letters to multiple inmates but settles on Hillary, a strong candidate for the filthiest person alive — and yes, FWIW I think John Waters will love this movie — as her ultimate prize. 

As in Precious, Daniels shows an uncanny ability to inspire his actors to dig deep enough that they're often at risking of shoveling straight through to camp. You wouldn't think any mainstream male movie star would put himself in a more compromising position than Matthew McConaughey did at the tail end (haha) of his farewell performance in Magic Mike , the one that basically ended ass up to camera, but he does. Unfortunately it's with far more disturbing and less sexy results. Efron, also no stranger to selfsploitation, seems entirely okay with spending half the picture in his underpants and engaging in a sort of masturbatory comic duet with Macy Gray. The director originally wanted his friend Oprah Winfrey for the role which is unfathomable… and hilarious. I can't quite imagine it though I can imagine her shouting "ZacEffrroOOONNNNNNN!!!!!" on her back with comic exaggeration, welcoming him to her show.


It will surprise no one who's been paying any attention that Nicole Kidman is the MVP, once again throwing herself into a controversial role with the hunger usually acquainted with actors who've waited for the big break forever. You could argue that Kidman is the cinematic equivalent of Madonna: brave, button-pushing, autoerotic, and continually willing to push herself long past the point where her peers have begun to coast or decided they're too old for this shit. Her first sex scene with Mr Cusack, both telepathic and obscene (no really), has instantly cornered the market on Craziest Sex Scene of 2012.

By now you've undoubtedly heard that The Paperboy features a scene in which Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron and a scene in which she cajoles him into dancing in the rain in his tighty whities. You've heard true. The best thing I can possibly say for this vivid messy Southern Gothic, which is always watchable but often quite unpleasant and artistically erratic, is that that those two scenes are hardly alone in their "am I really seeing this?" abandon. The Paperboy is so ripe and so rank that it's sure to be a polarizing love it or hate it film experience. Either response is fully justified but fans of outre cinema, highwire acting, and future cult cinema would be crazy to miss it.   


Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.


  1. says

    Tony Scott in the NYT summed it up perfectly: “You won’t see London, you won’t see France, you WILL see Zac Ephron in his underpants.”

    This giant steaming digital turd is ENTIRELY about Lee Daniels sniffing around Zac Ephron’s tighty-whities. He’s truly SICK. And not in an interesting way either. How he’s gotten as far as he has amazes me.

  2. jason says

    Yawn, yet more pandering to heterosexuals by Nicole Kidman, one of the least talented actresses in Hollywood. She should just go away.

    As for Zac in white undies, double yawn. Can’t stand him. No talent at all.

  3. llm says

    Seems very brave and risky, especially for the mainstream stars…and OMFG what McConnaghy ends up doing in this film…and also like a hot mess, however watchable. I actually appreciate actors, especially “pretty” celebrity-star actors taking legitimate risks and pushing themselves out of their, and their fans’, comfort zones. I haven’t seen it yet, but I respect risk taking and accept that its not always going to pay off..that’s why its a risk. I can’t imagine any other mainstream star doing what McConnaghey does in this film..not one. Sure maybe your Peter Skaarsgards, but not the matinee idol types. Given what Lee Daniels got out of Monique and Mariah Carey, I am at least curious. Its provocative and almost absurd, but I am willing to accept and appreciate a certain amount of that in a movie landscape filled with way too many sequels, remakes, and comic book films. I like all of them, but I also appreciate balls out risks. If they miss the mark, so be it, that’s part of taking risks.

  4. kyle Michel Sullivan says

    Man, didn’t take the bitches long to piss on Zac. Nothing new about dismissing actors who are pretty; look at some of the comments made about Tyrone Power, back in the day. Amazing how some things never change.

  5. Joel V says

    “Nicole Kidman, one of the least talented actresses in Hollywood.”

    Please see “Birth”, “Rabbithole”, and “To Die For” for starters. Thanks.

  6. Beverly says

    I read one review that describes this movie as a “comedy” (albeit dark) and described some hilarious scenes!??? I found NOTHING about this movie funny, witty or the least bit amusing… let alone hilarious. It was deeply disturbing, disgusting, raunchy and sickening. I was curious about what happened with John Cusack’s character (I.e., was he guilty or not)and was also a little curious about what was up with McConaughy’s character, so I watched the whole movie and then wished that I could erase it all from my memory. Unless your brain is like an etch a sketch, and you can shake it and make the movie disappear from your consciousness, I would recommend avoiding it.

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