The trailer for his latest work, The Paperboy, dropped a couple of days ago, 2 months after the film shocked and polarized audiences at its Cannes Film Festival premiere, to no surprise of this writer; after all, it's Lee Daniels we're talking about here. When has a film he's made (whether produced or directed) not been at the center of spirited debates among critics and audiences alike? Tennessee maybe? Then again, how many folks actually saw that mostly-forgotten film? It managed $16,000 at the box office in a 3-week long limited release.
So let's keep that one buried and instead turn our attention to what I'd say has definitely been one of his most bizarre films yet – one that he directed, and that just about split audiences; especially notable because it was his directorial debut, introducing us to his stylo.
Of course I'm talking about 2005's Shadowboxer!
Let's take a trip down Lee Daniels lane…
My goodness! What in the world to make of this flick – seeing it for only the second time, although for some, that's maybe 2 times too many.
But given what I do here, it was only a matter of time before I revisited Lee Daniels' directorial debut – a melange of shock (or maybe schlock) and awe casting, violence and sex, but all wrapped up in what I'd say is quite a lush package.
It's mostly style, with very little substance to support.
Daniels certainly wasn't trying to get into "the old boys club" with this one; everything and the kitchen sink lives in Shadowboxer; it's so preposterously put together, you can practically see Daniels winking at us (at least I hope so), being fully aware of the big "fuck you Hollywood" the film really is (or should be).
And it's a gesture I'd actually appreciate if the film itself was much less disjointed, and had a clearer objective – or if he'd just go ahead and wink.
So, what was the point of this entire exercise? Maybe a commentary on the legacy of family dysfunction (Lee's attraction to family dysfunction, influenced by his own upbringing, will make itself evident on film again, as we all know well enough); Or is it really a radicalization of the killer-for-hire sub genre; maybe an excuse to show what Stephen Dorff's penis looks like in a condom after penetration?
I can only shrug… and laugh right along with, or at it (I'm not sure which side I should be on).
Oddly enough, the film was, in its own way, post-racial, years before most had heard the name Barack Obama. It was an equal opportunity offender. I think Daniels saw a chance to blow the lid off almost every societal taboo and reveled in it all.
As is, it might make for some great, late night, campy viewing, while high on psychoactive drugs, but the actors seem so earnest in their performances, taking it all quite seriously that the effect is somewhat ruined, and thus its potential as a cult classic negated, fanboys and girls might say!
You can look at it all as someone else's bad dream, thanks to the other-worldliness quality about it, whether intentionally done or not; or just a failed ambitious first attempt by a filmmaker living on the fringes. Either way, I found it oddly fascinating to watch – not necessarily a positive or negative experience; rather just baffled at how Daniels was able to assemble this cast (featuring a few acclaime and dynamic actors, notably Helen Mirren) and raise the money necessary to put this on film – a well-shot film too, with its production design and cinematography mostly top-notch, preventing it from potentially being an embarrassing failure!
Maybe 50 years from now, Shadowboxer will be one of those films we look back on fondly in much the same way we currently, humorously celebrate movies by Ed Wood… or, as one writer compared Daniels to, Rainer Wener Fassbinder – himself labeled the enfant terrible (as some would consider Daniels as well) of the New German Cinema in his day.
Or maybe not.
But I'd say Shadowboxer is a film you should see at least once, if you've never seen it before, and behold the spectacle that it is; but if you try to make much sense of it, you'll probably work yourself into frustration.
I've seen all of his released directorial efforts thus far (granted he's only had 2), and I can at least say that one thing I've never been, in watching his work, is bored. I'll certainly see The Paperboy when the time comes, and continue to observe Daniels' progression as a filmmaker.
Anyone out there who actually loved Shadowboxer?
Check out the trailer below: