Book vs. Film: “The Paperboy” Film Far Outshines the Novel

Pete Dexter’s novel The Paperboy is a concisely written account of a journalist’s attempts to free a supposedly innocent man on death row. How then, does Lee Daniels’ adaptation of the book (which he co-wrote with Dexter) become a lust-fueled orgy of exploitation? Could the answer simply be that because Daniels is a gay African American male, he chose to use those identities to inform his auteur take on the novel? Or did Daniels just simply want to make a wildly bizarre film after his heartwrenching film Precious? And which (if either) is the one you should check out?

the-paperboyIn the late 60s, Hillary van Wetter (John Cusack) is on Death Row for the murder of a sheriff (who is beloved for only killing black men). Van Wetter is about to receive some aid from an unlikely gang composed of the famed Miami Times reporting duo Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) and Yardley Archeman (David Oyelowo); Ward’s brother—and temporary driver—Jack (Zac Efron); and the woman, Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), who is in love with van Wetter despite only knowing him from the letters she’s written to him in prison. Determined to prove his innocence (in the murder, at least), the gang ostracizes themselves in the small community as they aim to release this violent man from prison.

Both book and film begin from this scenario, but slowly their stories diverge. In Dexter’s novel, Jack narrates from the first-person his account of what happens in the journalists’ quest for truth. He protects and idolizes Ward (who gets into some trouble with some sailors); clashes with Yardley; and watches a self-proclaimed maneater devour his father and his father’s newspaper (which Jack is supposed to inherit). Dexter tells a succinct story that concerns itself more with finding the truth than with oversexing the characters. While this makes for a perfectly adequate novel, it does very little to set it apart from other adequate or mediocre novels.

Daniels’ film, however, alters much of what happens in the book (or at least how it’s portrayed), making for a far more engaging (if also absurd) story. The Jansen’s maid, Anita (Macy Gray), narrates the film with her exaggerated Southern accent. Yardley has an affected British accent and is portrayed by an African Englishman, despite the character in the novel being a white American man. Even Jack and Charlotte’s relationship (which is merely a hinted at flirtation in the novel) turns into a full-blown sexual affair (with Charlotte peeing on Jack after a jellyfish attack to prove her affection for him—a group of sunbathing nurses does the task in the novel).

9780679421757The greatest (and my personal favorite) change is Daniels’ overall approach to the film: making it essentially a love note to Zac Efron. Gratuitous shots of him swimming or running around in his white briefs make it easy to see what Charlotte found so attractive about Jack. And Efron’s ease with this role shows that he’s really coming into his own as an actor. All of this adds the necessary character development to Jack that is lost from him not narrating the piece.

While I’m the first person to say that you should always read the book first (and I do stand by that), The Paperboy is that very rare exception. If you are interested in reading Dexter’s concise novel then it is best to read that before you tackle the film. But the film is such an amazing roller coaster of an adventure that I highly recommend you see it and don’t even bother with the book, which pales in comparison.

 

Spring Break Forever, Bitches: A Review

spring-breakers-poster-1It’s spring break, y’all! From the writer of that messed-up movie about Kids with AIDS, Harmony Korine wrote and directed this film about one of college’s most important rites of passage. Spring Breakers follows a group of four girls who just wanna have fun but end up getting into deep trouble (not just with the law, either). What starts as their ideal partying vacay quickly turns into their biggest nightmare (at least for some of them).

Naughty party girls Brit (Prettly Little Liars’ Ashley Benson), Candy (High School Musical’s Vanessa Hudgens), and Cotty (Rachel Korine, wife of Harmony) are so desperate to get to spring break that they throw on ski masks and rob a fast food joint using a mallet and a realistic-looking squirt gun. With money in hand, they convince goody-goody Faith (Wizard of Waverly Place’s Selena Gomez), who wants to get out of their small college town and “see” things, to join them on their debaucherous spring break.

It’s all fun and games on spring break, until the girls get arrested for using drugs at a party. When drug and arms dealer Alien (James Franco—covered in tattoos and wearing a grille) bails them out, they are forced to follow him around like his own playmate entourage. But the dark and seedy underworld of spring break proves to be too much for some of the girls, yet getting out of Alien’s clutches is not very easy.

spring-breakers-posterKorine purposefully cast these young, tween stars to provide a greater contrast between innocence and violence. Just as Stoker involves youth violence, so does this film; but even with the spring break backdrop, the film is still not glorifying violence (although they seem to live in a consequence-free world). The violence in the film seems far more frightening than encouraging, showing just how desensitized our youth culture has become.

The biggest problem with the film lies in Korine’s filmmaking style. The repetitious montages and dialogue make some of the sequences feel exceedingly tedious. Shots of partying or lawlessness are constantly recycled throughout the film. And certain lines are play on a loop (oftentimes you hear conversations before they occur within the stories timeline). Oftentimes it feels like the film is just treading water, frustrating the viewer; but the payoffs at the end make up for most of it. Some of that repetitious dialogue becomes comedic, but it’s hard to tell if it’s intentionally funny or not.

Spring Breakers is a damning portrait of youth in America. At times it feels like a frivolous film of excess, but other times an important message piece. Either way you look at it, the stunning performances by Benson and Gomez and the jarring incorporation of Britney Spears songs used throughout the film make this one vacation you won’t want to miss.

Obsession Can Be Contagious in “Zero Dark Thirty”

Kathryn Bigelow’s newest film continues her exploration of our post-9/11 world. Zero Dark Thirty follows one woman’s intense obsession with tracking down and killing Osama bin Laden. While it may still feel too early for a film about this event, which only occurred a little over a year ago, Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal had been working on this bin Laden obsession story before his actual death (which would actually force them to change how the film would end). Yet regardless of how you feel about the actual events, this film will draw out the obsession-driven part of you.

PrintWhen the film opens circa 2003, Maya (Jessica Chastain) arrives in Pakistan as a green CIA agent tasked with finding bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders. She is quickly exposed to an extreme torture scenario as she watches her new mentor Dan (Jason Clarke) interrogate a prisoner. Maya looks deeply uncomfortable in this setting, but once she gets back to the office she feels more at home. Yet as the years go by and the hunt continues, Maya’s determination grows, as does her confidence, when interrogating prisoners. She soon becomes even more detached than Dan, possibly because she has other men to do the actual torture while she shouts questions at them.

Dan’s disillusionment leads to him to leave the field and return to DC. He isn’t the only one that leaves Maya, who begins to outlast—and outlive—everyone stationed in Pakistan. Leads come and go, but Maya’s obsession grows and manifests itself in many unhealthy ways (especially as concerns her diet). Soon she is the real-life Carrie Mathison from Homeland, but when she thinks she’s found bin Laden we are more inclined to believe her because she is not bipolar (like Carrie). Of course, convincing her bosses that she’s found him is not an easy task.

Jessica Chastain is perfect as Maya. She can exude the strength and confidence she feels while also showing her vulnerability when devastating events occur. As her obsession takes over, Chastain balances the line between driven agent and full-on crazy. Her intense and heartbreaking performance sets her apart from most of the lead actresses of the year (hopefully leading to some Oscar gold!).

The other actors in the film are great in their smaller roles as well. Jennifer Ehle, Harold Perrineau, and Kyle Chandler do their best to balance Maya’s ferocity. And Mark Duplass, Stephen Dillane, John Barrowman, and James Gandolfini pop up as various CIA characters in the same fashion that Argo is replete with TV-actor cameos. You are in good hands with these actors, and they give the film all the credibility you need to believe in the story and in Maya.

The film covers a lot in its 3-hour span, but it manages to infuse small moments of humor to relieve a lot of the tension felt from the terrorist attacks that are constantly occurring in the film. You should never feel too comfortable when watching, because an explosion occurs at least once every thirty minutes. Yet the film never gets as intense as The Hurt Locker (or that climactic sequence in Argo), making it easier to sit through. The tension lies more in the mind, as we follow this great manhunt.

Bigelow, Chastain, and Boal are names you’ll hear thrown around a lot in the next few months as Zero Dark Thirty continues to rack up award nominations. Of the “Big 5” films of 2012, I definitely believe this one is the best. Even if you don’t care about bin Laden or the War on Terrorism (like me) or already feel fulfilled from marathoning Homeland (also, like me), this film is still intensely engaging and thrilling to watch. Although Zero Dark Thirty is certainly not my favorite film of the year (there were so many great ones!), I definitely feel that this was the best film of the year.