The Paperboy

Movie Information

The Story: An investigative reporter and his black writing partner go to the reporter's backwoods hometown to seek the truth about a convicted man on death row. The Lowdown: This is overheated, impossibly lurid, oversexed exploitation filmmaking at its most outrageous. Let that guide you as to whether or not it's for you.
Genre: Southern Gothic White Trash Thriller
Director: Lee Daniels (Precious)
Starring: Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, David Oyelowo, Macy Gray
Rated: R

The Paperboy is the most completely, magnificently trashy, overwrought, overheated, overacted and utterly mesmerizing explosion of bad taste you’ll encounter this year. Florida-based critic Roger Moore (who I know slightly) called The Paperboy: “A sordid, seamy Cracker Gothic murder mystery, a brutishly overwrought melodrama that plays like Tennessee Williams on absinthe.” And I second that, but I mean it as a compliment; Mr. Moore does not. It is, I think, safe to say this is not a film for everyone. In fact, it may be a film for very few people, though in all honesty, it isn’t a whole lot trashier than Lee Daniels last film, the highly regarded Precious (2009), but it lacks that movie’s supposed importance. The closest thing I can relate it to is either Werner Herzog’s The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call — New Orleans (2009) or William Friedkin’s Killer Joe from earlier this year. In other words, this is an almost hallucinatory over-the-top assault on anything that could remotely be called “good taste.” You are both warned and encouraged to see what Lee Daniels and his fearless cast have wrought.

Do you remember the advertising blurb on the poster for Black Snake Moan (2006) — “Everything is hotter down South”? Well, that would fit The Paperboy even better. The film — told in flashback by the family’s maid, Anita (Macy Gray, For Colored Girls), as recounted to a newspaper interviewer (John Thompson) — tells the story of Miami Times repoter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) and his writing partner, Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo, The Help), coming back to the former’s Florida hometown to investigate the truth behind the conviction of death row inmate Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack). They’ve been drawn into this by ultra-trashy (we’re talking John Waters trashy) Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), an oversexed beautician with one of those fake-tan orange glows, overdone fake eyelashes and zero taste in clothes. She’s also one of those peculiar women who “fall in love” with guys on death row. Now, let’s throw in the fact that this is backwoods mid-1960s Florida and Yardley is black, making him a troublesome aspect on every level — and on another level we only suspect (until it’s later confirmed). And there’s Ward’s young brother, Jack (Zac Efron) — the paperboy of the title — who tags along and, of course, becomes besotted with Charlotte. OK, it’s the perfect recipe for a mildly trashy crime story. Well, that’s not what Daniels is after. No, he’s after the rawest and loopiest exploitation movie an R rating will allow. (Actually, I was surprised it wasn’t NC-17.) And I get the sense that he’s kind of the honey badger of filmmakers as to whether or not anyone approves — he just doesn’t give a shit.

This is a movie in which Nicole Kidman spreads her legs and mimes performing oral sex for her death row sweetie — to the transparent embarrassment of the other onlookers. It is also a film in which Kidman (the woman is fearless) urinates on Zac Efron’s face (relax, it’s to to treat jellyfish stings), chasing off all other volunteers with a terse, “If anyone’s gonna pee on him, it’s gonna be me! He don’t like strangers peein’ on him.” This is a movie in which Zac Efron plays large chunks in his tight white underpants. This is a movie where Matthew McConaughey…no, I’ll leave that one alone. And I’m only skimming the surface. I think it worth noting that all this is done with very little actual nudity, though perhaps the most intriguing — and maybe telling — aspect is when the one possibly meaningful sex scene is shut down by narrator Anita with a sudden, “Anyhoo, I think y’all have seen enough.” It’s as if things that aren’t tabloid trashiness are just off-limits here — and maybe that’s right.

So, will you enjoy the movie’s overheated and deliberate sleaze? Or will you be offended by it? That’s up to you — and you can probably tell from this review. (It’s hardly surprising to learn that Pedro Almodóvar once considered the source novel for his English language debut film.) If you see it, remember I’ve warned you. It’s trash. It wants to be trash. And it succeeds admirably. Rated R for strong sexual content, violence and language.

Starts Friday at Carolina Asheville Cinema 14

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

31 thoughts on “The Paperboy

  1. Ken Hanke

    The times in the paper are wrong, because someone decided they could be improved on. Here are the new times:

    The Paperboy (R)
    12:30, 2:45, 5:00, 7:25, 9:50

  2. Jeremy Dylan

    The closest thing I can relate it to is either Werner Herzog’s The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call

  3. Sean R. Moorhead

    I find myself intrigued despite my better judgment.

    SheТs also one of those peculiar women who Уfall in loveФ with guys on death row.

    I’m going to resist the urge to make an Ayn Rand joke except by praeteritio.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Just remember — if you love it, I sent you. If you hate it, it’s nobody’s fault but your own.

  5. Orbit DVD

    Naw, Baby Doll is a Sunday school picnic by comparison.

    I’m really asking about the camp, not the explicitness.

  6. Xanadon't

    Definitely dug this. Helps make up for having missed Killer Joe while it was in town.

  7. Xanadon't

    Actually it has around 3% to do with Justin not liking The Man with the Iron Fists.

  8. Xanadon't

    Yes, that’s sounds about r– er, wait. You have to understand that I sat through the wretched Margo at the Wedding on the strength of Nicole Kidman’s involvement alone. So there’s that to factor in…

    I’d say you’re still taking at least half of the pecan pie home with you.

  9. Xanadon't


    I can explain. A couple friends and I were visiting another friend who’d moved back home to middle of nowhere, Iowa. It was rainy. There wasn’t much else to do that afternoon. Except drink. Which we were, clearly. Someone in the group liked Will Farrel. And then there was my vested interest, of course.

    If it makes you feel better, we left early to go play indoor, black-light mini-golf. Turns out that’s a thing.

  10. William Chase

    HOLY MOLY. Saw this film last night. Wild. Definitely recommend it to anyone not bashful and looking for a great time at the movies!

  11. Ken Hanke

    Hey, don’t mind me. I’ve never seen it — nor have I seen black-light mini-golf (is there a hazard involving a poster of Jimi Hendrix?). In fact, I’ve never even heard of that. I have heard of (but also not seen) something called…uh…cooter golf, which I suspect is a rather different amusement.

  12. Xanadon't

    Uniformly bad from what I saw/recall. And sadly, much like its bowling counterpart, black-light mini-golf is distinguished from the regular version mostly by obnoxious music and the enhanced glowing effect of the golf-balls that begin neon anyway. So yeah, both the afternoon’s events were on par with one another in terms of creative originality.

    This other phenomenon you speak of had not captured my attention yet. I wonder if it isn’t such a bad thing in this variant to be over by a few strokes.

  13. Ken Hanke

    I wish to make it distinctly understood that the phenomenon of which I spoke is merely something I’ve heard about. I have never played it, nor even observed it. I do not feel especially deprived in any cultural sense by this.

  14. Xanadon't

    At least the film we’re ignoring in these posts is glorious trash. Otherwise the turn in conversation might seem inexcusably out of place.

  15. Xanadon't

    No, damn it, I have not. And at this point it won’t be until Monday at the earliest. I’ll be sure to let you know in a timely fashion, even if I haven’t had time to digest it enough to say much of import.

  16. Ken Hanke

    (Thinks: Bet if it had Nicole Kidman in it, he’d have managed to see it.)

  17. Xanadon't

    Ha, well since my track-record precedes any convincing argument I might put forth, I’ll only say that it’s been a hectic weekend.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.