It was the trickle of pee heard around the world. Cannes attendees were aghast and/or amused an infamous scene from The Paperboy that shows Nicole Kidman urinating on Zac Efron; this is apparently a great salve for jellyfish burns which were covering our Ken Doll-like protagonist. (In fact the term protagonist should be used very loosely for Efron's character Jack who is mostly acted upon than active throughout.)
Lurid! Sexy! Perverse! Trashy! Whether or not it's actually effective is overshadowed by all the hubbub that's attached itself to the movie for better or worse. In fact the movie is all of these things — but that's actually not a compliment. What could have become somethingmemorable is jaw-droppingly bad (when it's not hilarious). Director Lee Daniels uses a few different visual styles throughout from a stark black and white palette for a crime scene recreation at the beginning to a '70s porno aesthetic that oscillates between psychedelic and straight-up sweaty with an emphasis on Efron's tighty-whiteys. This only enhances the sloppiness of the script which uses lines like narrator/housekeeper/nanny Anita's (Macy Gray) "You ain't tired enough to be retired " to conjure up the down-home wisdom of the South. Despite Gray's musical talents she is not a good choice for a narrator or an actor for that matter. In a way — insofar as they're perhaps the only female characters given a chunk of screen time — her foil is Charlotte Bless Nicole Kidman's character. Anita is the mother figure who wears as we see in an early scene control-top pantyhose whereas Charlotte is all clam diggers and Barbie doll make-up. Or as Anita puts it "an oversexed Barbie doll."
The slapdash plot is that Jack's older brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) comes back to town with his colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo) to investigate the case of a death row criminal named Hillary Van Wetter. Yardley is black and British which seems to confuse many of the people he meets in this backwoods town. Hillary (John Cusack) hidden under a mop of greasy black hair) is a slack-jawed yokel who could care less if he's going to be killed for a crime he might or might not have committed. He is way more interested in his bride-to-be Charlotte who has fallen in love with him through letters — this is her thing apparently writing letters and falling in love with inmates — and has rushed to help Ward and Yardley free her man. In the meantime we're subjected to at least one simulated sex scene that will haunt your dreams forever. Besides Hillary's shortcomings as a character that could rustle up any sort of empathy the case itself is so boring it begs the question why a respected journalist would be interested enough to pursue it.
The rest of the movie is filled with longing an attempt to place any the story in some sort of social context via class and race even more Zac Efron's underwear sexual violence alligator innards swamp people in comically ramshackle homes and a glimpse of one glistening McConaughey 'tock. Harmony Korine called and he wants his Gummo back.
It's probably tantalizing for this cast to take on "serious" "edgy" work by an Oscar-nominated director. Cusack ditched his boombox blasting "In Your Eyes" long ago and Efron's been trying to shed his squeaky clean image for so long that he finally dropped a condom on the red carpet for The Lorax so we'd know he's not smooth like a Ken doll despite how he was filmed by Daniels. On the other hand Nicole Kidman has been making interesting and varied career choices for years so it's confounding why she'd be interested in a one-dimensional character like Charlotte. McConaughey's on a roll and like the rest of the cast he's got plenty of interesting projects worth watching so this probably won't slow him down. Even Daniels is already shooting a new film The Butler as we can see from Oprah's dazzling Instagram feed. It's as if they all want to put The Paperboy behind them as soon as possible. It's hard to blame them.
Previously, on The X Factor: Steve Jones disappeared without a trace. A giant, neon "X" fell from the sky and exploded onto the streets on Manhattan, killing thousands. Britney Spears' troubled, possibly drug-addicted old duet parter Don Philip was painfully exploited for the sake of good TV. L.A. Reid danced in his chair. Talent was discovered, maybe.
Now, it's time for day two of the audition round, and for some reason we're back in San Francisco — that Godless town populated by drag queens and Joey Gladstone. (Seriously, did anyone count the number of drag queens they showed between tonight and last? San Francisco's homophobe travel rate is about to go way, way down.) We essentially learned two things tonight: First, that you can't be pretty, talented, and from San Francisco all at the same time. Second, that this show is doing everything it can to make Britney Spears uncomfortable. Last night we suffered through Philip, and tonight her "biggest fan" was made to look like a psychopath in front of the entire X-Universe. I mean, he acted like one, but that's probably why they shouldn't have let him onstage. God, I'm getting too old for this.
Thankfully, we started with some good: 16-year-old Johnny Maxwell and his MILF had a cute little pep-talk in their Honda Accord or Toyota Land Cruiser or whatever. "There's hecka people here, Mom," Johnny mused. Johnny was right: Auditioners were packed outside the "Cow Palace" like, well, cows going to the slaughter. Lucky for Johnny, he was a special cow — even though his energy seemed to initially scare Britney, who is quickly becoming the queen of facial expressions, his original song "All These People" was a hit.
According to Johnny, "All These People" is about "doing it big, and not letting, like, what anybody says that's negative or anything get in the way of your dream." Kind of a basic message, but the crowd still treated him like Bill Clinton at the DNC. It's hard not to compare him to last season's Astro or Chris Rene, because he's sort of a mix of both, just not as good. Still, everyone stood up and freaked out, and L.A. Reid even sang along. One of my favorite recurring motifs on this show is how L.A. acts like he disapproves whenever someone says they're doing an original song, then he sings along and chair dances like me when I'm at a bar and a song comes on that I like but I'm too lazy to get up and dance. He fools me every time! "It's all feeling sooo good right now," L.A. cooed. "You have swag," Demi Lovato agreed. AAAnnnnd he's through!
Next: Unattractive and/or untalented people take the stage!
The next cow to be slaughtered was 22-year-old dancer Alexa Berman, who, like most of America's Millennials, felt like she has something special — something unnamed — that made her deserve all the fame and all the riches. (Boobs?) "That's what the X Factor is," she explained. "There's not a word for it for a reason." Okay! She also said that she was going to marry rich if she didn't get past the judges, and at that point we officially knew she wouldn't get through. Still, she was super hot — we were treated to a fun montage of pimply boys oogling her Fergalicious curves. To get a taste of Alexa's affect on men, please see below:
"You're Jersey Shore meets the Kardashians," Simon Cowell said with wonder. (Aside: In some circles, like Simon's, this is meant as a compliment.) Unfortunately, Simon's words were more than just your standard Cowell-esque pervy praise — they were also a premonition. Because once Alexa started singing "Too Close" by Alex Clare, it became clear that, much like the cast of Jersey Shore and the Kardashians, she was all looks and no talent. "It was like one tone the whole time as you were singing, and it was just really boring," said Britney. Simon tried to get her through, but everyone else said no. Still, he did get the chance to check out her junk in the trunk as she dejectedly marched offstage. I love silver linings :)
We were then treated to an epic montage of attractive but utterly untalented people offending the judges with their terrible-ness. How dare they be attractive but not have the voice to back it up!?!? Dylan Osborn was cute, but terrible. Ezekial McCarter had a six-pack, but no pipes. "We need someone hot who can sing," bemoaned our judges. Generically hot girl group? Nope. Ripped dudes wearing practically no clothes? Sorry. Hot twins? Maybe next time. "You can't destroy that song, sweetie," Britney said to our final hot, talent-less contender. What is wrong with you, San Francisco? Is it the water?
Then, finally, we found our hope: Jason Brock, a 34-year-old tech support guy slash gothic Elton John who was just so excited to be there. Brock was a total queen and seemed really sweet, so naturally I was really nervous that X Factor would use this to exploit him. "You are really excited right now," Demi said when he first took the stage. (Understatement of the night.) He was kind of nervously obnoxious when he rambled on about dreams and concerts and glitter explosions, but his rendition of Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" was flawless. L.A. went so far as to leave his chair/dance studio for a standing ovation, then said, "Every songwriter wants a guy like you to sing their song." You guys — this was adorable. My sad, icy heart almost melted for this lovely guy. I hope to see him during the live shows.
NEXT: An extreme high, and an even lower low
Ugh, Patrick Ford. Can we just skip talking about Patrick Ford? No, we can't. "I can't believe I'm meeting Britney Spears," said 20-year-old cashier Patrick, to his fellow auditioners. "It's like meeting God. I think she might be my sister. Do I look like her at all?" He was being serious, you guys. His demeanor was wildly unsettling, he needed some serious dental work, and his mom clearly dressed him for the audition. Awful. Awful! Mentally, this guy was so not all-there. He came out with a bouquet of flowers for Britney, and she looked only slightly less uncomfortable than she did during Philip's performance last night:
But this performance was like, 3,840,834 times worse. There was squawking, there were awkward white boy at his first middle school dance dance moves, and the whole thing was set to Britney's own "Circus." Unlike last night, with Philip, Britney's fellow judges didn't ask her to respond. "I won't even bother you," L.A. said. "It's like you had an argument with Britney Spears, got drunk, and decided to scream the song at her," Simon added. Simon's words were admittedly funny, but not when they were directed at someone who is clearly mentally unstable. "That's all you've got for me, Britney?" Patrick said, with horror. "Just a no?" You guys, she didn't even acknowledge him. Then the producers added this suspenseful thriller-flick music while Patrick just stood there, frozen, and it looked like he was going to start shooting. I know this is supposed to be fun, but it's not cool to exploit mentally unstable people on national television. Just — no.
But, again, we ended on a high note: 13-year-old Carly Rose Sonenclar was adorable, and her parents were sweet and supportive, and, most importantly, normal. There is nothing I love more than well-adjusted people on reality television. Maybe that's sad, but it's rare. Carly sang "Feeling Good" by Nina Simone, and it was spectacular. Within the first 20 seconds, you knew this girl was a front-runner. She has it, guys — that factor of X that has no name. It was the best audition we've seen so far. It was an audition that is literally impossible to snark on. All of the judges, and even her backstage competition, were standing up and cheering. I know the judges said they might have found their winner in Providence, and I'm thinking Carly could be it. My only hope is that they don't pluck her and primp her and turn her into some Disney-fied overly-sexualized teen dream, because right now Carly is a delightful, refreshingly normal looking 13-year-old. And I think that's what we really need. Plus, her parents are ADORABLE! They're totally September's Raismans.
NEXT WEEK: We meet someone who isn't here to make friends.
Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna
[PHOTO CREDIT: FOX]
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