The key to understanding filmmaker Lee Daniels isn’t Precious, his grating interpretation of a prestige picture. It’s Shadowboxer, his underseen 2005 directorial debut, which turns a simple neo-noir into a garish fever dream that offers the blinkered viewer Stephen Dorff’s condom-ed member, Joseph Gordon-Levitt dating Mo’Nique, a visibly inebriated Macy Gray and Helen Mirren getting euthanasia-fucked by Cuba Gooding Jr.
Few, alas, knew that when Daniels unleashed onto Cannes The Paperboy, it would deservedly morph from all-star prospective awards-gobbler to social media joke magnet, with the webiverse exploding at the thought of Nicole Kidman enthusiastically micturating upon Zac Efron. Those who’ve seen Shadowboxer shouldn’t be surprised to learn that isn’t even the film’s craziest event. That honor again involves Kidman, and a scene in which her severely dolled-up white-trash sexpot engages in a kind of sex act with death row inmate John Cusack from across a room. The whole thing is topped off with a camera pan down to show Cusack’s freshly stained jeans.
It’s hard thinking of a sleazier scene involving major actors–you’d have to go back to Malcolm McDowell fisting a newlywed in Caligula–and the story around it, for whatever it’s worth, is at least as batshit. Kidman has been pen pals with convicted murderer Cusack and, despite his being in-all-ways repugnant racist swamp trash, she thinks he’s innocent. Journo Matthew McConaughey returns to his Florida home to help free Cusack, while his brother, bored college flunkee Efron, occasionally stops lounging in his tighty-whities to fall for Kidman.
Though based on a novel—from National Book Award-winner Pete Dexter, who co-adapted with Daniels—The Paperboy feels made up as it goes along and is so overstuffed, it barely has time to address McConaughey’s yen for hogtied BDSM. Daniels’ filmmaking is unique: A bit with Kidman approaching a car has more dissolves than Brakhage’s Dog Star Man, while one rape scene is studded with inexplicable cutaways to dead animals. The Paperboy isn’t faux-trash, nor is it real trash. As cooked up by Daniels, it’s something original. Take that as a recommendation, if you’d like.