Monday, February 25, 2013

Grace of Monaco, The Paperboy, and Academy GIFS - A Week is a Long Time in Kidmania

It appears that some time during yesterday's Oscar telecast - it was long, but you'd think publicists could maybe leave their copy for a day or two until the buzz had leveled off and people had time to really notice - the first official image of our beloved Nicole Kidman in Grace of Monaco was spotted on the internet. I've heard the film's title is being rejiggered to simply Grace, which would be wrong for so many, many reasons, not least of which is that it'd remind us of Ray and who needs that? Grace of Monaco - we'll keep calling it that until somebody tells us otherwise - sees Kidman play Grace Kelly, and it's a role that hasn't gone by without a few (hundred?) people taking digs at Kidman about her age, her use of botox, and her general (apparent) unpleasant demeanor. Sigh.

I suspect anybody criticising Kidman's age can never suspend belief enough long enough to believe any actor can portray a character that is a different age to their own. Kidman is 45 and the period of time that the film covers is, I think, Grace Kelly's late 30s or early 40s. Lo and behold, Kelly continued to age once her Hollywood career came to an end due to her marriage, but you wouldn't know it from people that think she continued to look as she did in Rear Window for the rest of her life. Also, it's a good thing that being an actress means having to actually, oh you know, act, or else Kidman's clearly ice cold persona would freeze us all upon one glance.

Hearing that the film has been picked up by the Weinstein Co certainly implies that there are Oscars in its future. Or at least that Harvey hopes there is. Kidman will be around a lot in 2013 what with Stoker's imminent release and the likely year end releases of both Grace of Monaco and the Australian/UK production of The Railway Man, in which she stars opposite Colin First as the, wait for it, long-suffering wife of a WWII soldier. I smell a double whammy Oscar nomination for our favourite actress. Imagine if Baz Luhrmann had actually cast her as somebody - ANYBODY - in his adaptation of The Great Gatsby? By the way, am I the only one who has to keep remembering that she is in fact not in that movie? Shame, really. Perhaps a fabulous partygoer cameo that nobody's been made privy to yet? C'mon Baz, surprise us! Well, more than you surely already will.

Of course, Kidman's 2013 has already started off strong with the local release of Lee Daniels' The Paperboy. Having now actually seen this contorting beast of a film, I can officially be on the record with undeniable anger over Kidman's lack of Oscar nomination for her Louisiana floozy, Charlotte Bless. But, then again, I also think Macy Gray should have been nominated so maybe I'm just weirdly skewed. Kidman is in rock solid form as Bless, a woman whose ambition to find the right man can only be matched by her ability to dress in bright colours, tease her hair to extravagant lengths, and tan so much she resembles fried chicken. Alongside Gray, the increasingly reliable Matthew McConaughey, and the new-and-improved Zac Efron (I'm officially on side with him, by the way), she elevates the material above and beyond the call of duty.

That's not to say, however, that The Paperboy doesn't have worthy merits outside of Kidman's sweaty wig box. Whilst much has been made of Daniels' more eye-raising decisions, like having Kidman urinate on Zac Efron and a telepathic blowjob with feral John Cusack, I wonder whether anybody has taken the time to actually decipher why they're there? Sure, Daniels is a fan of the outrageous, and The Paperboy certainly feels more like Shadowboxer than Precious, but I think these sequences of almost camp-like quality are integral to the film's overall depiction of race and racism in America.

Much like Quentin Tarantino used the form of spaghetti westerns as a way of telling a story about horrific racial tragedies, so too does Lee Daniels take one thing to tell another. Rather than westerns, Daniels takes the raw elements of film noir and erotic thrillers and triumphs in turning them into a tale of "southern-friend" American gothic. After letting audiences have their laugh at Kidman's beach-front urination and Matthew McConaughey's hog-tied threesome, he then crashes the fun times with scenes of incredibly disturbing (well, even more so than usual) rape, racism, and a confronting portraying of American values. The use of Macy Gray's narration - however curiously utilised - constantly reminds that this was a time period that African Americans may have been pushed the fringes of white society, but continued to experience life with eyes wide open. They saw all matter of horrifying things that white people committed against them and against themselves without the ability to forget. In the end, it's Lee Daniels telling the more outright disturbing tale of America's racist past, one I suspect I may find myself recalling more so than Django Unchained, and in Macy Gray's character he found his storytelling proxy.

The Paperboy obviously isn't an easy film to sit through, but then not all cinema is meant to be easy. Daniels' direction of Pete Dexter's screenplay zooms around with seeming abandon, but somehow still manages to tell an engaging murder mystery, erotic drama, and robust comedy. Aided by impeccably tailored and colourful costumes that all but have the sweat stains to emphasise their tight, body-hugging designs (unlike, say, The Sapphires, these outfits look like they've been worn more than once in a hot climate), heat-stroked production design, hair and make-up that finds a fine line between trash and (wannabe) class - I particularly enjoyed, outside of Kidman's bleached tanned barbie doll, of course, the big black housemate with taped down curls on her temples - plus luxuriously dirty 16mm cinematography that all emit the lusty, sweaty vibe of a low budget 1960s exploitation flick. Again, something Tarantino may have done, but Daniels will get next to no credit since he's working in a very different context, not to mention a very feminine one. If the messy edges and scattershot middle act that feels too stretched out with unnecessary clutter stops the film from achieving true greatness, then I'm still glad Daniels had the balls to attempt it in the first place. So few directors even think of going there let alone piss on the rug on their way to doing it.

Many audiences will be sickened by The Paperboy - when discussing it on radio last weekend the hosts were certainly not mincing words about their opinions saying it sounded terrible - but much like Kidman's unflinching devotion to Lee Daniels vision, I remain a fan of his work and his desire to not only push boundaries of taste and what can and cannot be shown on film, but pushing them in territories that many other filmmakers don't dare to tread with a wicked queer, black bent. I can only imagine the tired-eyed housekeeper played by Macy Gray would watch something like Django Unchained and cry "bitch, you ain't seen nothin'. Let me tell you a story..." Not everyone gets out of The Paperboy unharmed, but the audience doesn't either. They've been witness to something altogether strange and wild and different and that is a feeling worth cherishing. B+

Of course, if Nicole hadn't already clearly proven how amazing she is, there's also this gif from the Oscars upon the Life of Pi visual effects winners getting Jaws-ed and silenced off the stage.

Poor things, indeed, but at least they have a friend in Nicole.

1 comment:

Janet White said...

Don't understand the Kidman hate anymore than the Hathaway hate. It's almost as if people resent great talent. Nicole is one of the few brave enough to tackle truly different roles. I'm really looking forward to The Railway Man. Shame it takes a major name for Australian films to get released to general US markets.