While far from being a commercial offering, The Paperboy doesn't fit neatly into what the art-house crowd might expect either, especially in light of director Lee Daniel's last film, the Oscar winning Precious.
What The Paperboy does have in common with Precious is Daniels' willingness to cast against type. Having comedian Mo'Nique play an abusive mother in the hard hitting drama, and filling other roles with singers Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz was inspired.
This time around we have Macy Gray (who Daniels has cast before in his debut Shadowboxer), who apart from narrating the story in her distinctive raspy voice, plays hired help, Anita, to a household that includes a younger sibling played by Zac Efron in his most adventurous project to date. Anita has a special attachment to young Jack, and its safe to say the director is quite fond of Efron. Any chance to have Jack strip down to his y-fronts is a good one in Daniels' book, and for the first half of the film we barely see him in clothes.
None of this seems out of place in a universe where a white-trash prisoner's wife, played by Nicole Kidman, struts around like a cat on heat and in one bizarre scene has non-contact carnal activities with her possibly murderous husband, John Cusack, while a group of reporters look on. Kidman has received a lot of awards attention for her no-holds-barred vampy turn, but Cusack is no less surprising as revolting low-life Hillary.
Just as unexpected is the way the film is shot. It has a grungy, gaudy aesthetic similar to the 60's exploitation films made around the time the story is set. In one particular scene where Kidman and Cusack's characters are having dangerously rough sex, Daniels constantly cuts away to barn and swamp animals. Strange? I haven't even mentioned the scene where Kidman urinates on Efron in his swimmers.
In case you're wondering, this curious southern-set pot boiler does have a plot. It revolves around a group of reporters trying to prove the innocence of a man sentenced for murder, but director Daniels is concerned with the milieu as much as the plot, and in particular with the sexual urges of most of his characters.
The Paperboy is a strange beast that will baffle and repel many, but will no doubt collect a small army of admirers