Charlotte Bless is a needy blonde femme fatale who writes to prison inmates. She’s fallen in love with one – Hillary Van Wetter, a criminal on death row for the murder of a corrupt local sheriff. Over their correspondence, she believes he’s innocent. In an effort to prove his innocence, she enlists the help of Ward Jansen and Yardley Acheman, two investigative reporters from the Miami Times. Along the way, she also incurs the affections of a young admirer.
The Paperboy is one of those long, hot summer style Southern melodrama’s that sounds like something Tennessee Williams might write but in the hands of director Lee Daniels it becomes a muggy, salacious mess. Don’t get me wrong. There are some genuine moments of acting and tenderness buried under the tawdry hodgepodge. Most of them belong to Nicole Kidman, who gives a better performance that this film deserves. Even Zac Efron is surprisingly charismatic as the shiftless college dropout that lusts over/is in love with Charlotte, the aging blonde Barbie doll.
It seems as if any time a moment of tenderness or drama begins, it’s undercut by some sleazy revelation that completely wipes away the beauty of the scene that came before it. I’ll give an example. Charlotte brings Jack, Ward and Yardley to meet with Hillary in prison. The “paperboys” are there to interview the man charged with murder but Hilary is more concerned with indulging his sexual desire with Charlotte. The guards have insisted the love birds to remain apart. However that doesn’t stop the two from contorting their faces as if in the throes of passion. They moan and quiver all while seated across the room from one another. It’s an embarrassing display that will either provoke laughter or disgust. That’s one scene. There are at least 4 more comparable to that. I won’t even reveal Charlotte’s home remedy after Jack suffers an allergic reaction from a jellyfish sting, but you’ve probably already heard about it since it’s The Paperboy’s most talked-about scene.
The Paperboy is highlighted by a game cast ready to throw caution to the wind. Unfortunately the trashy script is too often fixated on the unsavory details of Pete Dexter‘s 1995 novel. Like the Texans in Killer Joe, this recounts the sordid lives of a group of southerners, this time in Florida. The Paperboy is sort of a companion piece released only two months after that movie. Both casts include Matthew McConaughey. He’s fine as are the rest of the actors, but the real revelation is Nicole Kidman. She proves adept at conveying this hopelessly lost southern creature with an authenticity that far exceeds the quality of this film. There are some nice moments of genuine realism in the narrative, but they really don’t add up to the sum of their parts. Too often the narrative gets sidetracks on unnecessary deviations that derail the story. A bizarre late development that sheds light on McConaughey’s character is introduced just as things should be wrapping up. People willing to suffer the ridiculousness, should find this kind of fun. Personally, I had had enough by the end. There’s still plenty to delight more forgiving viewers. And any movie that unearths the 1973 chestnut “Show And Tell” by Al Wilson can’t be all bad.