Monday, October 8, 2012

The Paperboy, The Oranges

The Paperboy
The Oranges

Both have been trashed by critics, but I'm going to recommend "The Paperboy" and "The Oranges," two films with nothing in common but a strong sense of self. They know exactly what they mean to do, and do it.

In the lurid, swamp-bound Southern Gothic "The Paperboy," director Lee Daniels ("Precious") has forged a film of dissonance and discontinuity, one in which the audience never feels comfortable in its seat or knows what will happen next.

John Cusack, in a total departure from anything he's done before, plays Hillary Van Wetter, on Florida's Death Row for the murder of the town sheriff. Matthew McConaughey is the reporter Ward Jansen, home from Miami with his high-toned British partner Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) to investigate Van Wetter's claim of innocence. Nicole Kidman, in another departure, plays beautician Charlotte Bless, pen pal to thousands of prisoners, who just knows Van Wetter's the man for her. Zac Efron tags along as Ward's brother Jack, who thinks Charlotte's the bee's knees. Macy Gray brings life to the role of Anita, maid to Ward and Jack. The cast is uncommonly strong and uniformly excellent.

In an early scene, Charlotte brings Ward and Yardley to interview Hillary, who instead orders her to tear off her pantyhose and simulate receiving cunnilingus while Hillary jacks himself off as well as a Death Row inmate tied and handcuffed can. That may be followed by a scene of Hillary's brother on the bayou, knifing open an alligator and extracting its intestines. Then may come a scene of a white man being sodomized and brutalized by several black men, or of an angry word heard by the last person the speaker would want to hear it. All of these may be set to "Tell Me Something Good" or "Show and Tell," another incongruity in a film that loves to play with them. "The Paperboy" knows this mucky, oozy demimonde in its blood.

"The Oranges" is the kind of light comedy we used to get more regularly. It's one of those 80s-style movies with four main characters to keep track of, sort of like Bette Midler's "Big Business." Two couples are best friends: Gadget geek Terry (Oliver Platt) and his wife Carol (Allison Janney) spend half their waking lives with volunteer choral director Paige (Catherine Kenner) and her ad-exec husband David (Hugh Laurie). When Terry and Carol's daughter Nina (very pretty Leighton Meester of "Gossip Girl") comes home from college, she finds herself watching the late late show with David one night. Quite unexpectedly, they share a kiss that upends everybody's comfortable existence.

"The Oranges" is never hilarious, but it has a few laughs, a good and appealing cast, and a light touch. It's the kind of picture that knows what its audience wants and is happy to deliver it and get in and out in ninety minutes. That makes it a lot more enjoyable than a lot of movies that aim higher.

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