Anyone who’s seen the Oscar-winning film “Precious” knows that director Lee Daniels isn’t afraid of America’s more prickly issues, like race, sexuality, and class. In his new star-packed movie “The Paperboy,” he does it while taking giant risks — blurring the lines between pulp, gothic, historic, and even comedic storytelling — to the glee of some critics and the confusion of others.
“The Paperboy” centers on an investigative journalist, his younger brother, and the mysterious convict-loving woman who comes into their lives in the strange, racially-charged environment of their 1960s southern town.
Based on the 1995 novel of the same name, “The Paperboy” stars Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, John Cusack, Zac Efron, and Macy Gray, who plays the family maid and serves as the movie’s narrator.
Many critics have been confused or even incensed by Daniels' blurring of genre. "Life isn't black or white, it's all these other colors and shades of gray that make up life," Daniels says, in response to these criticisms. "There's humor in everything, and there's sadness in everything, and there's sexuality in everything."
In spite of the movie's star-studded cast, Lee Daniels' description of the process makes it clear that this was no Hollywood blockbuster. He paints a picture of a typical day on set: "Because we don't have any money, Nicole Kidman is forced to put on her own make-up, Matthew McConaughey is over at catering helping with the food, Zac Efron is moving sets. We are a family, we're putting on a play." The close connections that this process forged are in part what Daniels credits for the extraordinary performances of the actors.
Although the critical reception of The Paperboy has been mixed, Daniels says he is not discouraged. "I don't make movies for reviewers," he says. "I make movies for me." Indeed, he says he was surprised by the critical reception of "Precious," because he had intended the film mostly for African American audiences.
Daniels thinks that Hollywood has underestimated the intelligence of American audiences. "I'm not out here to make Spiderman," he says. "I'm here to make you think."