Once I discerned that the plot was not very important in Lee Daniels’ lurid Southern melodrama “The Paperboy”, I just observed its nice languid mood decorating its dark, pulpy melodramatic tale. Everything in the movie looks hot and sweaty, and it is rather amusing as it goes further into its swampy corner with the weirdly lurid sights including the urination as an emergency treatment for being stung by jellyfish.
The notoriety of “The Paperboy” was well known to me and others even before the movie finally arrives here in South Korea in this week. When the movie was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in the last year, the movie was lambasted by many critics and the reporters after its first screening, and then we all heard about its infamous urination scene featuring its two lead performers. The movie is surely as trashy as that scene, but that is exactly what it intends to be in its gaudy world, and it fairly succeeds in case of presenting the vivid summer atmosphere of Southern area and its colorfully morbid characters despite its ultimate fizzle in the end.
Its story is told from the distance by Anita(Macy Gray), a black maid who saw everything, knew everything, and now tells everything to an unseen reporter after a book based on what happened during that hot summer of Mort Country, Florida in 1969 is published. At that time, she worked as a housemaid for W.W. Jansen(Scott Glenn), the owner of the local newspaper, and she was particularly close to one of Jansen’s two sons, Jack(Zac Efron). Jack once attended the state college as a swimmer, but he was expelled due to his misdemeanor, and now he has been mainly working as a paperboy for his father’s newspaper company. When he is not working, he just idles away his time with no particular plan, and his father, who is mostly occupied with his new girlfriend, does not care much about his son’s future.
Meanwhile, Jack’s older brother Ward(Matthew McConaughey), who has been leading his own journalistic career outside their town, returns to Mort Country with his associate/friend Yardley Acheman(David Oyelowo), a British black guy not so enthusiastic about coming to Ward’s hometown for their business. They come here for investigating and reporting on a murder case which happened several years ago after they received the letter from one of the local residents, and they think this case might be a good material for their newspaper article and, possibly, the book which can help their respective careers.
The woman who sent the letters to them is Charlotte Bless(Nichole Kidman), who is your typical trashy Southern bimbo right from her first appearance. This shallow woman is one of those women attracted to death-low convicts for their own kinky reasons, and her target of affection is Hillary Van Wetter(John Cusack), who will sit on electric chair within years for murdering a local town sheriff. He may be guilty as charged, but he can be pardoned at least, and that is what Charlotte hopes for as a woman who has already married him.
As working for Ward and Yardley as their driver, Jack meets Hillary with them at the prison, and he is a repulsive and twisted man to say the least. In one of the most sordid moments in the film, he demands something inappropriate to Charlotte, and, while not touching him at all, she willingly surrender herself to his dirty demand right in front of the others who watch this perverted sight with the equal amount of amusement and disgust.
While their investigation getting nowhere despite some questionable details in the murder case Ward and Yardley found, Jack finds himself obsessed with Charlotte like an adolescent boy having a crush on older woman. It seems that she also likes him even though she seems to be serious about her flirting commitment to Hillary, and that is how we get that aforementioned moment when Charlotte promptly urinates on Jack’s body after he is heavily stung by jellyfish during his swimming on the town beach. “If anyone’s gonna piss on him, it’s going to be me! He don’t like strangers peeing on him!”, she angrily shouts when other young ladies try to urinate on Jack.
The director Lee Daniels, who wrote the screenplay with his co-writer Peter Dexter based on Dexter’s book, drench his story in the ambiance of hot summer days and nights of Florida, and the movie spends lots of its running time on making its atmosphere palpably sultry on the screen. At one point, You can vividly feel how hard it is for the characters to go through the swamp area near the town to meet someone they need to talk with, and then the movie cordially greets you with a graphic scene of disemboweling an alligator.
Some of them are wasted in their roles, but the actors handle their pulpy caricatures well. While Zac Efron mostly feels like a deer caught in the swamp as the least colorful character, Matthew McConaughey is suitably cast as a charming Southern man struggling with his personal demon generated from self-hate. John Cusack is effective as a sleazy and loony swamp animal, and Nicole Kidman does not hesitate to look blatantly slutty in her good performance.
With such tasteless materials, the movie is ready to plunge into its sensationalism, but it ultimately fails during its problematic third act where the story takes a left turn and then reaches to the violent finale too abruptly with a little impact. I cannot wholly recommend the movie due to that flaw and other problems, but it gets hotter in these days, so it may be an ideal guilty pleasure for you to be enjoyed with a glass of mojito.