The Reel Deal Goes to Cannes Update #7: Film Hopping

There is no middle ground in Cannes. If a film is bad, it is an insulting piece of trash. If it’s good, it’s a masterpiece that redefines cinema. At least that is how the critics feel.

The Cannes Film Festival is infamous for the “boos!” that greet a bad film. This only occurs during press screenings, as journalists at Cannes do not hold anything back. Also, and this goes without saying, it is rude to boo at a film in which the cast and crew is at attendence. I experience booing for the first time ever this morning at a screening of “The Paperboy,” the new film from “Precious” director Lee Daniels. While I certainly wouldn’t go as far as to boo with them, this didn’t seem to occur without justification.

Next: My thoughts on “The Paperboy” and “On the Road.”
When your big break is a film like “Precious,” expectations are obviously going to be unrealistically high. If you can’t deliver perfecty, then at least deliver something. “The Paperboy” had potential, and it even had some very good parts to it. Ultimately, it is the most misguided film at the Festival. It has too many ideas, but no clear idea of how to execute them.

“The Paperboy” is following a trend of southern-based American films premiereing at Cannes this year, after “Lawless” and “Killing Them Softly.” It is set in the late 1960s, and chronicles the investigation of the murder of a racist sheriff in Florida. Not Miami or Palm Beach County, but an area I assume to be on the Panhandle. Journalists investigate the conviction of the accused killer, and many twisted violent and sexual crimes pursue.

It is surprising to see such poor performances, especially because Daniels directed the actors of “Precious” to such heartbreaking performances. Zac Efron tries hard to break away from his past life as the star of “High School Musical.” However, his character should have been played by somebody of a much more awkward demeanor. He looks too clean cut to be an average southern kid from Florida. His most serious moments produce unintentional laughter, especially in what should be a suspenseful chase through the woods. Meanwhile, John Cusack was not meant to play a villain. He should stick to playing deadpan, chronically depressed characters in comedies.

Matthew McConaughey does his best in a role that isn’t so great. I am convinced though that he only does good work when he can speak in a Southern accent. The recent film “Bernie,” in which he had a somewhat similar role, is much more worth your time. Nicole Kidman steals every scene she is in. She is the only one who really dissappears inito her role. She feels like a trashy grindhouse character with a little bit of soul.

Speaking of grindhouse, “The Paperboy” has the style of a grimy B-grade 70s movie. This I enjoyed. However, this is a bit too serious of a story to be made like that. Well, at least how they told it. If you want to make schlock, go all out.
I remember seeing “Precious” for the first time at Sundance when it was still called “Push.” It was one of the most moving films I had ever seen. “The Paperboy” does not create that same magic. It has is moments, but the uneven and conventional ending offsets all of them. “The Paperboy” could use another trip to the editing room before its official theatrical release.

“On the Road” was a much more rewarding experience. Jack Kerouac’s classic of Beat Literature was seemingly unfilmmable. The film does well in turning a listless narrative into a coherent story driven by characters, not plot. The film is more focused on Sal Paradise’s (Sam Riley) relationship with Dean Moriarty, than his relationship with America. That is an interesting element that is unfortunately lost, but the two lead actors make this interpretation just as good.

“On the Road” is beautiful to look at, with its panaromic views of the parts of America rarely seen. It picks and chooses the characters and side stories to be portrayed well, with many scenes making me beg for more.

“On the Road” is not perfect, but it pulled off a nearly impossible feat. And no, I’m not talking about making Kristen Stewart seem interesting. It made a story with no real plot points interesting. For once, a film is carried by people, not just events.

My review of “Killing Them Softly,” which I saw yesterday, will be up soon.