The film opens in an interview style. Talking to Anita, an ex-maid for the Janson family, about the murder of the town Sheriff. She explains who she is, and the interview is intercut with images of Zac Efron, who is introduced to us as Jack Janson, the younger of two brothers.
Directed by Lee Daniels, this black comedy noir is based on the 1995 novel of the same name by Pete Dexter. The Paperboy is set in 1960’s Florida in the heat of summer, complete with period soundtrack and colourful costumes and interiors. It has a distinctly humid feel, sweat and grime pasted on each of the characters and building the sense that something big is constantly about to happen.
The Paperboy is narrated to us in part by Anita (played by Macy Gray). She is an all-seeing, all-being character, as the story is told from her perspective. As the audience’s friend (as well as Jack’s seemingly only friend), she dictates to us what parts of the story we are allowed access to, and which we are not; for example during a steamy scene between Jack and Nicole Kidman’s character Charlotte, she intervenes with “I think you’ve seen enough”, immediately followed by a fade to black and change of scene.
The film is very inventive with its’ use of cinematography, with extreme pans, slow zooms and use of split screen, in addition to overlaying shots of Jack and the clear blue sky, connoting the blissfulness of his infatuation with Charlotte.
The biggest issue I found with this film is the way that it constantly deviates from the main plot, which can often cause the audience to lose attention. It is pitched to the audience as a film about two brothers attempting to crack a murder case, but in actuality very minimal time is spent trying to locate the actual murderer or discover the truth behind the Sheriff’s demise.
In addition to this, it feels as if horrific and startling scenes are placed randomly in the film with lack of clarity and limited plot development – for example a scene in which Efron is stung by jellyfish and Kidman urinates all over his face, or the double rape of McConaughey’s character, Ward. The only development these scenes have is for a story to be leaked by the local newspaper and to reveal that Ward is a homosexual, both complete deviants from the original plot.
As much as this film is trashy and has many flaws, it also has it’s good points. The acting is as a whole well-rounded and skilfully achieved. Kidman’s character, Charlotte Bless, is a twist on the typical Southern Belle, equipped with a peroxide blonde wig and huge, spider-like eyelashes. Obsessive, crazy and sexually explicit, she is the perfect strong and vulnerable counter-part to the hormone-unbalanced college dropout that is Jack Janson. She is, however, hopelessly in love with the accused Hillary Van Wetter, played by John Cusack. A psychopath in his own right, they are seemingly well matched, especially during a rather uncomfortable scene in which they mutually masturbate during a prison visit. This is, however, short-lived, as he is released from prison and treats Charlotte without respect and visciousness. During a drawn-out montage of sexual aggression, Daniels intercuts images of pigs, alligators and a dead possum. This serves to accentuate his animalistic tendencies and ugly personality.
Of all the ups and downs that this film contains, all of this could be said to be made up by the intensity of it’s final scenes, and the elegance of it’s ending.