Popular trash movies are sometimes compared to fast-food; they are manufactured to provide immediate satisfaction without little to no concern about the consumer’s health. The Paperboy is trash, but is has more in common with the juicy mess of grease cheese that fills the street-cart burrito you have at 4am in the morning after a long night of drinking than a McBurger cooked up in a sterilized kitchen. Like the burrito, this film has no care, no substance, and no shame but every single moment of it is delicious, rich in texture, and a unique experience.
This film has so much texture you can feel yourself wading and wallowing in it. It is set in a mud, blood, and piss filled swamp in Florida during the times before air-conditioning made it a preferable vacation spot. The swamp is so nasty a place the characters have to spend half the movie sweating and swapping mosquitoes. In this swamp lives Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), a man so vile and cruel that he should be executed solely on principle. Van Wetter spends his days catching and killing ‘gaters to make boots.
At the film’s opening Van Wetter has been wrongfully accused of slicing the guts out of the local sheriff and killing him. Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey), is a reporter for the Miami Times who believes Van Wetter has been wrongly convicted. Ward grew up in the town next to the swamp and knows the town would like to see Van Wetter dead even if innocent but he chooses to investigate anyway. He recruits his younger brother, Jack (Zac Efron) as his driver/assistant and brings along his partner from the times, Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo). Yardley is an educated black man who speaks with a British accent and leaves most of the locals cross eyed. Even Jack has a hard time adapting to his presence. Aside from Jack, who is to naïve to do otherwise, every other character is hiding something about themselves.
The reporting team ultimately meets up with Charlotte (Nicole Kidman), the textbook definition of white trash blonde if there ever was one. Charlotte keeps correspondence with several men in Death Row, including Van Wetter, and has somehow fallen in love and gotten engaged with Van Wetter without ever meeting him.
A woman like her belongs in a psychiatric institute, but Ward decides to keep her around since she can provide information on Van Wetter. It doesn’t help that young Jack is absolutely infatuated with Charlotte. The trashy blonde’s hopeless romance with Van Wetter and her reproachable flirting with Jack lead to two scenes no other movie would have dared to include them both. To put it mildly, these scenes include: jellyfish, female body parts, piss, and a simultaneous orgasm. I leave the rest up to your imagination.
The entire story is narrated by Anita (Macy Grey), a maid who works for the Jansen family and could be seen as Jack’s only trustworthy friend. She seems to know exactly what happened but is reluctant to give up the information; after all she lives in a rather racist town, inhabited by the worst kind of white trash, in the 1960s. No matter how far away she stays from trouble, it will find her.
Apparently the film has been panned by critics, especially after its debut at Cannes. Many asking, how was this even put together? How did Nicole Kidman ended up in this role, which is pretty much the antithesis of what she is? Why does the director Lee Daniels, who made the acclaimed precious, spend half the time showcasing McConaughey and Efron’s abs? Was it necessary to show the piss, and the alligator's guts? In their defense, all the actors do a terrific job. And it is great to see that an actress like Nicole Kidman can still prove her worth beyond the roles society has assigned. And I could say the same about Efron and McConaughey, despite the fact they still have it in their contract that the film must display their shirtless torsos every other scene, at least Lee Daniels can make shots not look out of place.
Haters will be haters. And I’ll grant you that this film is not for everyone, and probably not for you. It is sick and disgusting but I loved every minute of it, most of the time in disbelief. You can look at it as an expensive student film, but to its defense I will say this film is not boring, it is very different to anything you likely seen in the last few years, and it prefers to take bold and risky moves into places where other movies would cringe and stay away from. So I highly recommend you go try something different and go see The Paperboy; it will be a unique experience and worst comes to worst you will see Zac Efron getting pissed on.
Meanwhile I am going sit back and enjoy this juicy carnitas burrito.