“In The Paperboy, Lee Daniels’s hot-button, hot-tempered, hot-and-bothered sleazefest, the husky-voiced Macy Gray plays Anita, a 1960s housemaid from South Florida asked to recount the aftermath of a local sheriff’s murder,” begins R. Kurt Osenlund in Slant. “Though nothing actually delves into the surreal, the story she narrates suggests a tell-all from a character in The Help, provided the woman first popped a peyote button. Detailing the escapades of the family for whom she worked, Anita’s recollections are rife with mad, gratuitous indecencies, from public urination and S&M gang rape to random nudity and animal mutilation. Since John Waters was apparently busy, this seedy material (dreamt up by Pete Dexter in his 1995 book) proved perfect fodder for Daniels, an auteur of grimy, sensationalist misery who also saw potential in Sapphire‘s tale of an obese, illiterate, HIV-positive incest victim…. The Paperboy deserves to be seen for its pulpy, well-executed excess, but as a filmmaker, Daniels seems ignorant of how the shocks distract from the story.”
Jonathan Kiefer, succinctly, for the Voice: “[I]t involves corn-fed creep John Cusack wrongfully on death row and coming to the attention of investigative journalist Matthew McConaughey, whose kid brother Zac Efron tags along for the reporting and crushes hard on the inmate’s tarty pen pal groupie, Nicole Kidman.” The Paperboy “seems aimed at anyone who, when young and impressionable, was treated to and weirdly turned on by a truant matinee of In the Heat of the Night.”
Daniels’s films “objectify and fetishize their own schizophrenic style and adolescent excesses,” writes Eric Hynes for Time Out New York. “The problem is that the filmmaker brings D-grade craft to these B-movie exertions, making his florid maximalism more entertaining to talk about than endure—despite the best efforts of his ardently slumming A-list cast. Daniels has the liberated impulses of an artist—this is not a commercial or compromised film by any measure—but so far, he’s lacking the weird genius that could elevate these gothic horrors beyond the merely, if spiritedly, profane.” A tad more from David Fear: “This is trash cinema pitched at a stratospheric level of kitsch, but before you misinterpret that, know that it’s still trash.”
Richard Porton for Cinema Scope: “At Cannes, much ink was spilled to either celebrate or lampoon a scene in which Kidman urinates on Efron to relieve the pain of a jellyfish sting. This half-baked controversy sums up the vacuity of a film that desperately wants to be scandalous but is merely an inchoate mess.”
Updates, 10/5: “You can find a neat, serviceable whodunit on basic cable or the paperback rack at an airport bookstore,” writes A.O. Scott in the New York Times. “A hot mess like this, even if it makes you dizzy and a little queasy, is a rarer phenomenon, worth seeking out if only so you can say you saw it with your own eyes.”
“I’ll give this to The Paperboy: It’s never boring.” At MSN Movies, Glenn Kenny finds it “not infrequently hits a frequency that evokes Tennessee Williams out of John Waters. This is pretty unusual and entertaining as far as it goes, but the problem is the extent to which there’s anything discernibly noteworthy going on underneath all the luridness.”
At Reverse Shot, Leo Goldsmith spends quite a while comparing The Paperboy with Precious and finds it “less juicily problematic than sweatily provocative, a piling-on of situation and detail from which we can ultimately feel safely feel removed, secure in our lack of complicity, and comfy in our moral superiority.”
For Bilge Ebiri, writing at Vulture, “ironically, a film that clearly wants to have such a visceral impact—if we are to take all those sweaty bodies and physical close-ups as any evidence—winds up being the most alienating movie of the year.”
“It’s Gray’s grounded, rounded-out take on the mammy archetype who stands out as the only relatable, human character amidst all the outsized sleaze,” finds Alison Willmore at Movieline.
More from Christopher Bourne (Twitch), Mary Corliss (Time), A.A. Dowd (Time Out Chicago, 1/5), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 3/4), Amy Nicholson (Box Office, 3.5/5), Andrew O’Hehir (Salon), Nathan Rabin (AV Club, D), Scott Tobias (NPR), and Stephanie Zacharek (Film.com, B-). And Jennifer Vineyard interviews Macy Gray for Vulture.
Update, 10/14: Nick Schager for the Voice: “Daniels shoots with self-conscious ’70s-style affectations—heavy grain, split screens, superimposed imagery, varying film stocks—to further amplify the material’s atmospheric hysteria. Decked out in trampy short dresses and hot pink lipstick, Kidman’s redneck Barbie doll oozes cheap erotic filth. Yet while one character rightly opines ‘This is a circus,’ Daniels eventually can’t also help aiming for high-minded import, thereby halting any wild-and-crude momentum and exposing this grotesquerie of broad caricatures, nasty intolerance and deep, dark secrets as merely wannabe-trash with unwarranted ambitions to mean something beneath its gleefully tasteless sex and violence.”
NYFF 2012: a guide to the coverage of the coverage. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @KeyframeDaily on Twitter and/or the RSS feed. Get Keyframe Daily in your inbox by signing in at fandor.com/daily.