Zac Efron became a teen heartthrob with the success of the High School Musical movies and then did everything possible to decimate and alienate the core audience that made him a star.
He rightly realized that the shelf life of a young Disney star was limited and turned his attention to making serious but little seen films like Parkland, At Any Price and The Paperboy, an art house film better known for a scene utilizing an age-old cure for a jellyfish sting you don’t normally see administered by an Oscar winner like Nicole Kidman.
His latest movie, We Are Your Friends, the first major-studio film set in the world of electronic dance music, is a mix of music and romance that sees Efron play an aspiring DJ who falls in love with his mentor’s girlfriend.
It’s a role that should appeal to his original fanbase, the kids who have aged out of High School Musical and now listen to EDM, where his other screen choices seem to have left them behind. Occasionally he’s thrown them a bone, with popcorn movies like New Year’s Eve, or Neighbors, where he plays the prerequisite 20-something good-looking Hollywood hunk.
Take That Awkward Moment for instance. He played an avowed hook-up artist, a young guy who would rather hang out with his best friends Daniel (Miles Teller) and Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) than have a meaningful relationship with a girl. In time-honoured rom-com fashion, it’s a movie that takes advantage of its leading man’s blue eyes and sculpted abs. Efron’s hair is practically a character in the film.
Perhaps while making The Lucky One, a Nicolas Sparks romance co-starring Taylor Schilling, it occurred to him that simply watching good-looking people fall in love does not a movie make.
I couldn’t help but think that Efron, when he says to Schilling’s character Beth, “I know you deserve better than this,” was actually speaking to the audience.
Luckily his other films are less about his looks and more about his ability. The Paperboy is an odd film. It’s an art house thriller — meaning that there aren’t many thrills — in which each of its stars do some fairly intense envelope pushing in a story about a reporter returning to his native Florida to investigate a murder.
Paired with risk-taking actors like Nicole Kidman, David Oyelowo, John Cusack and Matthew McConaughey, Efron works hard to shake off the early teen idol gloss that made him famous. He mostly succeeds, although director Lee Daniels’s camera still caresses the actor, taking full advantage of his effortless appeal.
In Me and Orson Welles, Efron is overshadowed by an actor playing a man who died many years before the core audience of this movie was even born. Christian McKay plays Orson Welles with such panache that Efron becomes a supporting player in his own movie but still makes a strong impression as a teenager with dreams of being on stage in this handsomely mounted period piece.
Other films like At Any Price, a 2012 powerful tale of fathers and sons and the pressure to succeed, have shown not only his depth but his willingness to stretch as an actor.
So why does Efron, who could have a movie franchise career in a heartbeat, look past the obvious career path?
Efron told the Hollywood Reporter that his often eclectic acting choices are always artistic in nature and never about money.
“I’m constantly searching for characters that are about betterment of self and betterment of others,” he says. “And I’m searching for those parts because those are the ones that make me happy. They’re the ones that fulfil me personally.”
Zac Efron became a teen heartthrob with the success of the “High School Musical” movies and then did everything possible to decimate and alienate the core audience that made him a star.
He rightly realized that the shelf life of a young Disney star was limited and turned his attention to making serious, but little seen films like “Parkland,” “At Any Price” and “The Paperboy,” an art house film better known for a scene utilizing an age old cure for a jellyfish sting you don’t normally see administered by Oscar winners like Nicole Kidman.
His latest film, “That Awkward Moment,” bridges the gap between the commercial fare that typified his early career and the edgier movies. It’s a rom com but it really is about how gross these twenty-something manboys can be.
Efron plays Jason, a New York graphic artist who designs covers for books with titles like “Diary of a Teenage CEO.” He is an avowed hook-up artist, a young guy who would rather hang out with his best friends Daniel (Miles Teller) and Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) than have a meaningful relationship with a girl. That is until he meets Ellie (the excellently named Imogen Poots), a young writer with big eyes and big dreams.
“That Awkward Moment” takes advantage of Efron’s blue eyes and sculpted abs in time honoured rom com fashion. His hair is practically a character in the film. It certainly has more personality than most of the men in the movie.
This is the kind of movie that makes me glad I don’t have daughters in the dating pool. The three main characters—Jason, Miles and Mikey—are frat boys who speak Bro Code, using terms like “Double Gopher” and advising their divorced friend to create a roster of women rather than get tied down to one woman.
And yet before you can cue the Drunk Rom Com Xbox Montage ™, these young idiots have met and canoodled with women who are WAY more interesting than they deserve.
Daniel takes up with Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis), an Upper West Side child of privilege (who also sings the blues in nightclubs) while Jason struggles with his feelings for Elie. Both women hand in charming, funny performances that feel like they’ve been beamed in from another, better movie, and are the reason to see the film.
“That Awkward Moment” works better when it drops the frat boy stuff and embraces its rom com roots. When it focuses on the real relationships between the guys and Ellie and Chelsea it plays like a regular rom com. Beyond that it might mainly be of interest as a cautionary tale for parents of twenty something women.
There is a shorthand film critics use at TIFF time to identify movies. Deep into the festival, when all the movies start to run into one another we rarely use the title of a film, instead we’ll pick up on the most notable scene or theme and do a quick synopsis.
It goes like this:
“Are you going to see ‘The Paperboy’?”
“Which one’s that?”
“The one where Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron.”
You’ll never see that on a marquee, but for weary festival goers it’s a lot more evocative than the movie’s actual title.
The film begins with a 1969 murder in a South Florida town. It’s actually what Hitchcock called a MacGuffin, an event that isn’t really all that important to the story, but is more the catalyst for the action to follow. The upshot of the killing is that a man named Hilary Van Wetter (John Cusack) is arrested thrown in jail and sentenced to the electric chair (all off camera).
Here’s where the real story starts.
A Miami-based investigative journalist named Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey), and his writing partner Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo), are convinced the man was wrongly convicted and decide to have a closer look at the case. Complicating the investigation are Jansen’s family ties to the scene of the crime—his father publishes the local newspaper—and his brother Jack’s (Zac Efron) obsession with Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), the convict’s jailhouse bride-to-be.
“The Paperboy” is an odd film. It’s an art house thriller—meaning that there aren’t many thrills—in which each of its stars do some fairly intense envelope pushing.
Efron works hard to shake off the early teen idol gloss that made him famous, and mostly succeeds, although director Lee Daniels’s camera caresses the actor, taking full advantage of Efron’s effortless appeal.
Kidman is sultry an over-sexed Barbie doll indulges in the above-mentioned scene (it’s a remedy for a jelly fish sting) who explains her attraction to the prisoner with the words, “Hilary ain’t so bad, and I ain’t so good.” What also ain’t so good is a strange sex scene between the would-be lovers in a prison waiting room. The “keep your hands where I can see them rule” isn’t going to stop these two from having a funky good time.
McConaughey continues to move away from the romantic comedies that defined the last decade of his career. He’s now acting with his clothes on (and without Kate Hudson) in movies that show what he can do.
They are all good—Kidman is particularly interesting—but it is John Cusack who makes the biggest impression. As swamp man Hilary he forever erases the image of sweet Lloyd Dobler and his boom box. It’s an intense, dirty performance in an off kilter movie filled with nice work.
“The Paperboy” isn’t a movie for people who like to pigeonhole their movies. It’s a dark, impressionistic look at race, sin and how (but not really why) people make connections. It’s filled with great performances but doesn’t seem to know how to tell the story in a truly compelling way.