That’s a heck of a lot of sweat, isn’t it?
Screenplay By: Lee Daniels & Peter Dexter
Directed By: Lee Daniels
There’s only one place to begin talking about The Paperboy, and that’s with Macy Gray. Miss Gray is a horrendous actress, and I firmly believe that Lee Daniels knows this and plays to her lack of acting prowess. There’s an awkwardness to her performance, an awkwardness that fuels the film. The Paperboy is a series of awkward moments with awkward characters in awkward places. Miss Gray is the heart of the film, she gets the viewer off on the right foot and she is always present to make sure the audience remembers the awkwardness that is The Paperboy. Her mannerisms are always off somehow, but it works with the off nature of the film. Those looking for a barometer of what to expect from The Paperboy need look no further than the awful performance of Miss Gray and the ability of Mr. Daniels to use said awfulness for his own means.
I hesitate to call The Paperboy fun, because it is so much more than that. Yet, The Paperboy is a lot of fun. It grounds itself in the idea that there is fun to be had in the exploration of these slimy, sweaty, and dirty characters. And explore those characters The Paperboy does. The characters in The Paperboy aren’t really archetypes, they are unique while playing off of established types. The characters in The Paperboy are also fully realized, and in ways both subtle and not so subtle. We never need Ellen Guthrie’s overt racism pointed out, she is more than capable of letting us know how racist she is with her actions. In a different way Mr. Daniels slowly builds to the revelation that a character is gay. He hints at it, and when it’s revealed it makes all the sense in the world. We needed to be told that character was gay because there was no way that character would admit his homosexuality to those around him, at least not if he has his way. The characters in The Paperboy are rock solid and brimming with life, mysteries, and nuggets of truth to be discovered.
I come away from The Paperboy most impressed with the ability of Mr. Daniels to convey a time and a place. There’s a distinct 1970s TV feel to the look of the film. Obviously the sets capture this as they are recreations of the late 1960s into the early 1970s period. The film stock is blown up so that the colors wash across the screen. At the same time Mr. Daniels keeps his characters in clothes that show the heat of Florida. Zac Efron spends most of the film in his underwear. It’s too easy to chalk that decision up to an attempt to titillate. There is some of that present, sure, but the choice to keep Mr. Efron in his underwear plays up the heat and sweatiness of the film. Mr. Daniels does such a fine job of portraying the grimy sweat of a late 1960s Florida summer that I half expected sweat to come flying off the screen whenever a character was in motion.
I’m not going to tell people that The Paperboy isn’t a tad nutty. It most certainly is a crazy film, but it’s a film that earns its craziness. I have hopes that years from now people will be talking about The Paperboy as a great underappreciated noir. I had a great time with The Paperboy, it dazzled me with its sleaze and its craft. We all complain about being given the same movies over and over again by Hollywood. The Paperboy offers something different and I for one am choosing to embrace it’s unique, and utterly crazy, individuality, sweat and all.