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Cannes Review Capsule: ‘The Paperboy’

What do critics think of the new film from the director of "Precious?"

Based on the all-time classic video game by —

— no wait, hold on, hold on, that’s not right.

Based on the novel by Pete Dexter, Lee Daniels’ “The Paperboy” arrived in Cannes with a good deal of curiosity and an even greater deal of skepticism. Daniels came out of nowhere to make a major impact on the indie film landscape with 2009’s “Precious” — which went on to win two Academy Awards (Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Mo’Nique) and garner more than its fair share of controversy. The assembled press corps was eager to see if Daniels could repeat that success or perhaps even exceed it, while working with a high profile cast that included Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, and Zac Efron.

So how did he do? Well, I guess you could say “The Paperboy” pissed all over their expectations.

A crude remark, I know, but a relevant one. That’s because it’s hard to find a review of “The Paperboy” that doesn’t talk about the scene that will likely ensure the film lives, possibly in infamy, for all eternity: Kidman going #1 all over Efron after he gets stung by a jellyfish. Vulture‘s Kyle Buchanan, in a piece entitled “When Nicole Kidman Gave Zac Efron a Golden Shower at Cannes,” says he “can confidently predict that when it comes to wild, must-discuss moments from this year’s fest, nothing will ever top the scene… where Nicole Kidman looms over a supine Zac Efron, cries out, ‘If anyone’s gonna pee on him, it’s gonna be me,’ and then squirts an impressive stream of urine onto the ‘High School Musical’ star’s face and bare chest.” You can’t piss on hospitality, but you can piss on Zac Efron. Good to know!

You tell me a movie has Nicole Kidman peeing on Zac Efron and my instinct is: this sounds like hilariously trashy fun. So is it? Critics are divided on this issue. At Press Play, Simon Abrams says the film is “so trite and rabidly campy that you often have to wonder what you should and shouldn’t be laughing at,” but adds that the best you can say about “The Paperboy” “is that it’s sometimes intentionally awful. More often than not, however, it’s just awful.” On the other side of the fence is James Rocchi of MSN Movies, who says the film is “an over-ripe slice of trash that was made to be mocked” that ensures “the phrase ‘Nicole Kidman’s Next Release’ will be funny for another six months.”  

You had me at Nicole Kidman’s next release, James, and The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy was similarly smitten by “The Paperboy”‘s “appealingly rough and rasty texture.” He describes the story: “a tale of murder, idealistic journalism, warped sexual desires, a slipshod legal system and inbred backwater types hostile to outsiders.” McConaughey plays a reporter investigating the murder of a small-town cop and the man imprisoned for the crime (John Cusack). Kidman brings the warped sexual desires as a woman hot for Cusack’s jailbird; the first time the pair meet “the betrothed couple indulges in a heavy-breathing bout of mutual auto-eroticism at first sight.” All I’ll say on this matter is let he who is without mutual auto-eroticism sin cast the first stone. Over at Variety, Justin Chang says that “The Paperboy” is “risibly overhead” but “not unenjoyable” and that “set to a soundtrack of soul hits and full of bizarre scene transitions, the film seems possessed by the spirits of blaxploitation and ‘Baywatch.'” Baywatch, but with more watersports, I guess.

In other words: this movie wears a big boy pair of crazypants. The film doesn’t have a distributor yet, but hopefully one will come through soon. I can’t wait until “The Paperboy” is available on, uh, streaming.

Instant Twitterverse Reaction:

Guy Lodge, In Contention:

“‘The Paperboy’ (B-/ZOMG) That rarest of beasts: a successfully calculated camp classic. Kinkily demented, yes. Inept, no. Kidman and Macy fab.”

David Fear, Time Out New York:

“I look forward to seeing NYC drag queens re-enact scenes from ‘The Paperboy’ for decades to come. #ripefrommage #cannes”

Raffi Asdourian, The Film Stage:

“‘The Paperboy’ is a big mess. Laughably bad at parts, you have to wonder if Lee Daniels intended it to be this way. Efron is awful. #Cannes”

Bruce Kirkland, Toronto Sun:

“#CANNES: Lee Daniels’ ‘The Paperboy’ is in parts ‘The Help,’ ‘The Swamp Thing,’ a psycho killer thriller & a sex frenzy. The parts don’t fit.”

Mike D’Angelo, The A.V. Club:

“‘The Paperboy’ (Daniels): 9. Lee Daniels: Worst filmmaker of our time, or worst filmmaker of all time? Discuss.”

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