The Paperboy (2012 film)

2012 film by Lee Daniels
The Paperboy
The Paperboy.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Lee Daniels
Produced by
Screenplay by Lee Daniels
Pete Dexter
Based on The Paperboy
by Pete Dexter
Music by Mario Grigorov
Cinematography Roberto Schaefer
Edited by Joe Klotz
Nu Image
Lee Daniels Entertainment
Distributed by Millennium Films
Release date
Running time
101 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $12.5 million
Box office $2,424,372

The Paperboy is a 2012 American drama film starring Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, John Cusack, Nicole Kidman and David Oyelowo. Directed by Lee Daniels, it is based on the 1995 novel The Paperboy by American author Pete Dexter.

The film competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and received Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for Kidman's performance.[1]



An idealistic reporter, Ward Jansen (McConaughey), and his younger brother, Jack Jansen (Efron), investigate the events surrounding a murder in an effort to exonerate a man on death row, Hillary Van Wetter (Cusack). Van Wetter has been jailed for the murder of an unscrupulous local sheriff, Thurmond Call. Call had previously stomped Van Wetter's handcuffed cousin to death. Van Wetter is now awaiting execution. The Jansens are helped by Ward's colleague, Englishman Yardley Acheman (Oyelowo), and Charlotte Bless (Kidman), a woman whom Van Wetter has never met but who has fallen in love with him and is determined that he should be released and that they should marry. In prison Van Wetter regularly receives correspondence from her.

Charlotte tries to prove Van Wetter's innocence by requesting the help of Ward and Yardley, who are both investigative reporters from a fictional newspaper that happens to share a name with the real, historic black newspaper, The Miami Times, and are hungry for a salacious story. Ward returns to his hometown to investigate the case but has mixed feelings about returning home to his estranged father, and his father's new girlfriend, Ellen, who distribute The Miami Times in their town. The Jansen brothers dislike their father's new girlfriend. Jack is the paperboy after having been expelled from college for vandalism. His only real friend is the family maid, Anita (Macy Gray), who brought him and Ward up after their mother left them. The movie's plot unfolds as Anita, for a fee, smokes and describes the events to an unseen reporter.

The evidence against Van Wetter is inconsistent and the writers are confident that if they can expose Van Wetter as a victim of redneck justice then their story will benefit them greatly. Meanwhile, Jack has fallen in love with Charlotte, who only desires Van Wetter. Anita realizes that Jack can never stop thinking of Charlotte as she is his first love. One day, with some information from Van Wetter, the Jansens travel to the swamp to meet Van Wetter's uncle Tyree, who has evidence that Van Wetter did not commit the crime.

Ward has been revealed to be a homosexual; on a fact finding trip, he gets drunk, cruises and approaches some Black men in a bar, who rape and torture him, which he wanted, but then plan to murder him. Charlotte alerts Jack, who saves his brother. During Ward's time in the hospital, Yardley prints the news article despite not getting all the facts right. Jack tries to convince Yardley to stop, but instead discovers that Yardley is actually American, having pretended to be English because Black men from the South could not be successful unless they lied about their backgrounds. Yardley also reveals he had some time before gotten drunk and given Ward sexual favors, which was the beginning of Ward's infatuation with Black men.

Van Wetter is eventually released from prison and takes Charlotte away to the swamp to live with him. She is of course unhappy and sends a letter to Jack she made a mistake, and is going to try to attend his dad's wedding. During the wedding, Jack reads the letter, and realizing Charlotte is not there that something is wrong. A barely recovered Ward and Jack go to save Charlotte. Van Wetter and Charlotte argue about her going to the wedding (revealed in flashback). He actually kills her as Jack and Ward are en route to save her. When Jack and Ward confront Van Wetter, Ward's throat is cut, and after being pursued through the swamp by a machete wielding Van Wetter, Jack dives into the swamp water. He evades Van Wetter during the night, who returns to his shack and finds Charlotte's body gone, as he hears the boat motor start. Jack is seen leaving in his boat with the bodies of Charlotte and Ward. Van Wetter (Anita narrates) is then arrested for these murders, convicted, and sent to the electric chair. As the credits roll, Anita reveals that Jack meets his mother for the first time as a young adult when she attends Ward's funeral, and that he never got over his first love.



After the critical acclaim for his previous film Precious, Daniels was sent many possible scripts for a follow up including several lucrative offers.[2] However he decided to pass on these stating that "I couldn’t get off on it" and stating that he instead "with what my spirit told me to do".[2] Daniels had stated that along with Push, he viewed The Paperboy as "some of the great, great novels".[2] He particularly enjoyed the characters in the novel, finding them extremely relatable, though he found the plot was somewhat nonsensical and thus viewed the movie as an attempt to create a more coherent storyline.[2]

Daniels was initially nervous about meeting Kidman although he calmed down once she told him "I'm just a working girl, Lee. You've got to direct me."[3] Kidman herself was unsure if she could portray her character only gaining confidence after Daniels introduced her to several women who, similar to the Kidman's character, had romantic involvement with prisoners, one of whom told her that she believed she could portray such a relationship convincingly.[4] During the shoot Kidman only communicated to Cussak as her character, Charlotte, stating "I wanted to deal with him as the character and have him deal with me as the character".[4] As a joke after filming wrapped, Cussak went up Kidman and formally introduced himself.[4] One notable scene featured Kidman urinating on Effron after he gets stung by a jellyfish. Although neither the actors involved nor Daniels had any problem with filming the scene, Daniels admitted to getting cold feet while editing and consulted with Kidman about possibly removing the scene who reportedly told him ""Lee, you made me pee on Zac Efron. If you don't put it in the movie, you need to man up."[3]


The film premiered on the 65th Cannes Film Festival on May 28, 2012, to mixed reviews. Robbie Collin at The Daily Telegraph wrote that "Readers of the film's Wikipedia page may spot the claim that it received 'the longest sustained standing ovation of the festival at 16 minutes'. As someone who was present at that screening, and the cacophonous quarter-hour of jeering, squawking and mooing that followed, I think Wikipedia may want to clarify its definition of 'standing ovation'."[5] The Guardian surmised, "those who prefer delicate watercolours had better stand well back. It makes a lurid splash."[6] The Paperboy also screened at the 39th edition of the Flanders International Film Festival Ghent, 2012 Ischia Film Festival, 2012 New Orleans Film Festival, 50th New York Film Festival (to which Kidman received a tribute gala), 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, and the 2012 Stockholm International Film Festival.


Reception to The Paperboy have been mixed to negative with some critics comparing it to Lee Daniels' directorial debut, Shadowboxer. Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph disliked the film at its Cannes premiere, but positively reappraised it almost a year later on its UK release. "As a piece of art this is all lust, no caution; a heady mirage of sex, swamps and soul music that wants nothing more than for you to share in the joke. Thank goodness I finally got it," he wrote.[7] Most praise has been for Nicole Kidman's portrayal of Charlotte Bless, and Collin wrote that she "has not been this good since Dogville (2003), and...secretes sensuality like a slug does slime".[7] Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian said, "Nicole Kidman really is terrifically good as Charlotte: funny, sexy, poignantly vulnerable".[8] Chris Haydon of Filmoria stated, "Would I recommend you to see The Paperboy? Yes, probably, simply because Kidman needs to be witnessed and noticed for this work. Will it win at Cannes? Absolutely not."[9] And Mary Corliss wrote, "The revelation, however, is Kidman’s performance. Renouncing the goddess image she has so frequently assumed, her Charlotte is a ripe, feral creature, working all her sexual wiles just for exercise. With a risky mixture of precision and abandon, Kidman splendidly creates a vision of Southern womanhood at its most toxic...[10] It won’t happen, but she deserves the Best Actress prize at this year's Cannes". Sophia Pande of Nepali Times wrote, "The Paperboy may not be to your taste. It is often over the top and very violent, but this is Lee Daniel’s style. It is this very style backed by intelligence, undeniable directorial skill, and an intimate knowledge of his deeply flawed but very human characters that make for such a compelling film."[11]

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 43%, based on 138 reviews. The site's consensus states: "Trashy and melodramatic, The Paperboy is enlivened by a strong cast and a steamy, sordid plot, but it's uneven and often veers into camp."[12] The staff of The A.V. Club named it the worst film of 2012.[13] The New Yorker movie critic Michael Schulman called the movie "deliriously tawdry and nonsensical".[14]


Singer Mariah Carey wrote and recorded a song titled "Mesmerized" for the film's soundtrack.[15]


Event Award Category Recipient(s) Result
2nd AACTA International Awards AACTA Award Best International Actress Nicole Kidman Nominated
Alliance of Women Film Journalists Alliance of Women Film Journalists Award Actress Most in Need of a New Agent Nicole Kidman Nominated
65th Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Best Film Lee Daniels Nominated
19th Screen Actors Guild Awards Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role Nicole Kidman Nominated
70th Golden Globe Awards Golden Globe Award Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Nicole Kidman Nominated
Indiewire Year-End Critics Poll Indiewire Critics Award Best Ensemble Nominated
Best Original Score or Soundtrack Mario Grigorov Nominated
Best Supporting Performance Nicole Kidman Nominated
2012 Austin Film Critics Association Awards AFCA Award Special Award for the Best Body of Work Matthew McConaughey Won
2012 Village Voice Film Poll Village Voice Award Best Actress Nicole Kidman Nominated
Best Film Lee Daniels Nominated
Best Supporting Actor John Cusack Nominated
Zac Efron Nominated
David Oyelowo Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Macy Gray Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Nicole Kidman Nominated
Worst Film Lee Daniels Nominated
2012 Central Ohio Film Critics Association Awards COFCA Award Actor of the Year Matthew McConaughey Won


  1. ^ "Cannes Film Festival 2012 line-up announced". Time Out. Retrieved April 19, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d Giroux, Jack. "The Paperboy' Director Lee Daniels Comes Clean About Art vs Commerce and the Beauty of Dancing in Your Underwear". Film School Rejects. Retrieved 22 August 2016. 
  3. ^ a b Buchanan, Kyle. "Lee Daniels on Directing The Paperboy and That Notorious Scene With Nicole and Zac". Vulture. Retrieved 22 August 2016. 
  4. ^ a b c Brooks, Brian. "The One Thing Nicole Kidman Wouldn't Do For Lee Daniels' The Paperboy". Movieline. Retrieved 22 August 2016. 
  5. ^ Collin, Robbie (March 13, 2013). "Were critics wrong to boo The Paperboy?". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved May 31, 2013. 
  6. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (March 14, 2013). "The Paperboy – review". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 31, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Collin, Robbie (March 14, 2013). "The Paperboy, review". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved May 31, 2013. 
  8. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (24 May 2012). "Cannes 2012: The Paperboy – review". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved 2012-05-24. 
  9. ^ Haydon, Chris (24 May 2012). "Cannes Film Festival 2012: 'The Paperboy' Film Review". UK: Filmoria. Retrieved 2012-05-24. 
  10. ^ Corliss, Mary (October 4, 2012). "The Paperboy: Down and Dirty with Zac, Matthew and Nicole". Time. Retrieved May 31, 2013. 
  11. ^ Pande, Sophia (1 February 2013). "Must See: 'The Paperboy'". Nepali Times. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  12. ^ The Paperboy at Rotten Tomatoes
  13. ^ Adams, Sam; D'Angelo, Mike; Murray, Noel; Phipps, Keith; Rabin, Nathan; Robinson, Tasha; Tobias, Scott; Willmore, Alison (December 20, 2012). "The worst films of 2012". The A.V. Club. The Onion. Retrieved December 20, 2012. 
  14. ^ Schulman, Michael (January 28, 2013). "Why 'The Paperboy' Is a Camp Classic". The New Yorker. Retrieved May 31, 2013. I don't know if there’s an official registry of movies that are so over the top, so deliriously tawdry and nonsensical, that they earn the moniker of camp classic, but if there is I’d like to nominate Lee Daniels's 'The Paperboy'. 
  15. ^ MariahCarey (2 May 2012). "lil' excited to share with you that I wrote a song for Lee Daniels' new movie "The Paperboy" called Mesmerized!" (Tweet). Retrieved 2012-05-03 – via Twitter. 

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