The Paperboy at TIFF: A First Experience

Inside the Elgin Theatre
Inside the Elgin Theatre

On Friday, September 14, I got to attend the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), something I’ve wanted to do for years. My husband received tickets from his coworker, who couldn’t attend the premier screening of The Paperboy. We jumped at the chance to see a screening at the Elgin Theatre. I thought I was prepared for the event, but it still surprised me.

We arrived at the screening close to the 6pm time. This put us in a ticket holder’s lineup that wrapped Shuter Street. The rush seats lineup was longer. As we made our way around the building, teenage girls stood between the Eaton Centre and the red carpet screaming. For a moment, I wondered why they screamed for Matthew McConaughey or John Cusack. Then I remembered the Paperboy’s central character: Zach Ephron. The screaming suddenly made so much more sense.

When we finally to entered (after the red carpet of course), we decided to head up to the balcony for some decent seats. We were close to centre, mid-way up the balcony, and had a decent view of the screen. I didn’t know much about the movie going into the theatre, and was surprised when the director came to introduce it to us. Lee Daniels also directed the move Precious, so I immediately grasped the style of movie this would be: dramatic and atypical.

Based on Pete Dexter’s noir-ish crime novel, The Paperboy sizzles in the sun-drenched swamps of the deep south in 1969, where Miami Times reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) has returned to his hometown of Lately, Florida, to uncover the true story of Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), who has been sentenced to death for allegedly killing a notoriously racist sheriff. With his partner Yardley (David Oyelowo) and younger brother Jack (Zac Efron), Ward seeks out the assistance of Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), an aging Southern sexpot with a penchant for felons. Believing in Hillary’s innocence, the four embark on a journey into the alligator-infested backwaters, where secrets, lies and desires lurk just beneath the murky surface. A twisted love triangle emerges as the naive Jack becomes increasingly infatuated with the world-weary Charlotte, though she remains devoted to her death-row soulmate Van Wetter. – Description of the Paperboy on the TIFF website

The Elgin Theatre Ceiling

The Paperboy itself was incredible, the kind of story that sticks with you long after watching it. Lee pushes the edges of dramatic tension with very funny comedic scenes. The swamp creeps me out. Lee filmed the more gruesome scenes  with respect, and leaves most of it to the viewer’s imagination to get his 14A rating. But Lee had the entire audience in stitches with the first jail scene. I still wonder how many takes that scene took. That and how the cast didn’t burst out laughing.

Lee Daniels wanted to put his actors outside of type, and they all did very well. John Cusack is unbelievably creepy. Matthew McConaughey has passion and passions. Nicole Kidman plays a woman dangerously attracted to bad men. Zach Ephron plays a morose teenager in a love triangle. He holds his own in this role against the bigger names of his costars. They all played their characters startlingly well.

But for me, Macy Gray, narrator and help to the 1960’s family, stood out from the others. Perhaps its her small, innocent but raspy voice that lends itself so well to the movie, perhaps it’s the way she expresses the racial dynamics from the 60s in every scene, but either way, she was sweet and wonderful, a breath of fresh air to the more serious script.

Lee Daniels, David Oyelowo, Zach Ephron

After the movie, Lee Daniels, David Oyelowo and Zach Ephron answered audience questions. All three had interesting things to say about the movie, filming in the Florida Swamps, dealing with accents and the time period, and sharing the screen with Nicole Kidman and Matthew McConaughey. While Lee Daniels and David Oyelowo impressed me with their answers, I found Zach Ephron didn’t really answer the questions at all. He seemed a bit dazed and confused, from fatigue, from all the adoration, or from all the TIFF parties.

All in all, I had a fantastic time with TIFF, and I definitely want to see some films next year. I really wish I’d gotten tickets for Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. So, I’m looking for tips.

How do you get tickets to see the films you want to see for TIFF?

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