The Papaerboy is an interesting attempt at something we don’t often see in cinema but it is nonetheless more suited for DVD rental rather than full-blown cinema experience.
A few skeletons in the closet get rattled when a reporter returns to his Florida hometown to investigate a murder involving an inmate who was on death row.
This is one of the more difficult films to pin point on a certain target audience. If you like your melodrama with a good dash of weird, then you’re lurking in the right Southern backwater.
The Bottom Line
The big question on my mind is whether Matthew McConaughey has some sort of score to settle with the land of his birth – the American South? The Texas native has landed several roles in Southern set films where his characters aren’t exactly the standard bearers of moral probity. Killer Joe saw McConaughey play a cop moonlighting as a hit man and Mud had him evoke a kind of haunted Tom Sawyer after growing out of his childhood innocence. What more could be said about True Detective other than “is that really him?” I’m only echoing Joel’s sentiments from Dallas Buyers Club here so let me get right to The Paperboy.
The film is supposedly a reminiscence of a family maid played by Macy Gray, who, in the film’s opening framing device, is either spectacularly stoned; out of her mind or doing a damned fine acting job. The narration by Gray’s character ultimately lapses into a sort of surreal fever dream, where she talks about things she didn’t personally witness and also speaks directly to the audience about some of these things. She tells us about the family she worked for and focuses on Jack (Zac Efron) and Ward (McConaughey) and what happened when they involved themselves in a death row inmate and the slightly unsound woman who corresponded with him via letters. Like the opening, this film is all over the place, from storytelling to performance styles to just general character development and hits a few awkward narrative potholes on its haywire journey to reach the climax.
The Paperboy evokes much of the mood of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in that it revels in a certain postmodern Southern Gothic atmosphere, positing dysfunctional families as well as a kind of fetid overall atmosphere where the heat and humidity may have helped to break down traditional mores. The film is unabashedly melodramatic, as well as kind of unapologetically pulpy at its core. For those who don’t mind some over the top characters doing underhanded things, the film does offer some mostly palatable performances. Nicole Kidman takes the lion’s share of critical accolades for her performance as Charlotte Bless, though I personally found her Southern accent a rather wobbly construct, even if her overall demeanour is miles away from her usual more glamorous fare. McConaughey does incredible justice to his character in spite of awkward character development but his presence is criminally not taken advantage of to its full potential. Zac Efron didn’t leave much of an impression – not that he’s awful – his character was a more of a cardboard cut-out than anything else.
The Paperboy simply doesn’t seem to know exactly what it wants to be. Is it fodder for teenyboppers; a sort of investigative procedural; a story of star-crossed lovers; or in fact a slasher film? There are certain lunatic pleasures to be had in The Paperboy, but my hunch is they’re most suited to those with a certain love of instant camp.