ⓘ The Paperboy (2012 film)
The Paperboy is a 2012 American drama film directed by Lee Daniels and distributed by Millennium Films. It was written by Lee Daniels and Pete Dexter and is based his 1995 novel of the same name. Its story follows Miami reporter Ward Jansen who returns to his hometown in Florida to investigate a racial murder case involving a death row inmate. The film stars Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, John Cusack, Nicole Kidman and David Oyelowo.
The film was produced by Lee Daniels, Hilary Shor, Avi Lerner, Ed Cathell III, and Cassian Elwes. It premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival on May 24, 2102 and October 5, 2012 worldwide. It grossed $102.706 in its opening weekend and $3.8 million worldwide, against a budget of $12.5 million, making it a box office bomb. The film received mixed reviews and has a 45% approval rating based on 146 votes on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite its mixed reviews, Nicole Kidmans role drew Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations.
Anita, the chain-smoking maid of the Jansen family, recounts to an unseen reporter the events of the summer of 1969, when idealistic reporter Ward Jansen came back to his hometown of Lately in Moat County, Florida, to investigate the events surrounding a murder in an effort to exonerate a man on death row, Hillary Van Wetter. In 1965, swamp-dwelling alligator hunter and small-time criminal Van Wetter was jailed for the murder of a violent and unscrupulous local sheriff, Thurmond Call. Four years later, Charlotte Bless, a woman from Mobile, Alabama, whom Van Wetter has never met but who has fallen in love with him after exchanging correspondence, is now determined to prove his innocence and have him released so they can marry.
Charlotte requested the help of Ward and his colleague, Englishman Yardley Acheman, who are both investigative reporters from The Miami Times. Wards younger brother, Jack Jansen, is hired as their driver. Ward has mixed feelings about returning home to his estranged father, who runs a local newspaper and distributes The Miami Times in their town. Both Jansen brothers dislike their fathers latest girlfriend, Ellen. Jack now works as a paperboy for his fathers business after having been expelled from college for vandalism, ending his prospective career as a professional swimmer. His only real friend is Anita, who brought him and Ward up after their mother left them.
The evidence against Van Wetter is inconsistent and Ward and Yardley are confident they can expose Van Wetter as a victim of redneck justice. Meanwhile, Jack has fallen in love with Charlotte, who only desires Van Wetter. During a day at the beach, Jack gets stung by a jellyfish and has a life-threatening allergic reaction. Charlotte saves his life by urinating on him, an embarrassing circumstance that his father promptly exploits for an article in his newspaper. Anita suggests that Jack can never stop thinking of Charlotte as she his first true love.
Van Wetter is hostile to the reporters at first, and contrary to the romantic portrayal he had painted of himself in his letters to Charlotte, he reveals himself to be a racist, a sexist and, in general, rude. One day, after finally acquiring some useful information from Van Wetter, the Jansens travel to meet Van Wetters uncle, Tyree. Tyree is the only one who can corroborate Van Wetters alibi, since, according to Van Wetter, the two men were stealing sod from a golf course in Ormond Beach the night of the murder. Tyree, who lives in pitiful conditions in the middle of the swamp with his "white trash" family, is initially ill-disposed and wary of admitting his own crime to save his nephews life, but finally caves in. In the meantime, Yardley and Charlotte have visited the golf course to verify that side of the story; Yardley comes back claiming to have tracked the developer who bought the sod stolen by Hillary and Tyree, but the man only agreed to talk upon a guarantee of anonymity, so Yardley refuses to disclose his name even to Ward. Satisfied with his findings, Yardley goes back to Miami to start writing the article.
Suspicious of Yardleys motives, Ward decides to go check the truth in Ormond Beach himself, with Jack and Charlotte in tow. During the trip, Ward gets drunk, approaches two black men in a bar, and takes them to his motel room. During the night, Charlotte wakes up Jack after hearing alarming sounds from Wards room, and the two find Ward naked, beaten, and hogtied and gagged. As Ward is taken to the hospital, Jack does not resent him for secretly being a homosexual for "what he was into", but just for keeping from him this side of his adult life.
While Ward is still in the hospital, Jack goes to Miami to try and convince Yardley not to publish the article in his brothers name without checking all the facts first. During the confrontation, Yardley reveals hes actually an American pretending to be English to escape discrimination. He also reveals he had given Ward sexual favors in the past, which was the beginning of Wards guilty, self-hating infatuation with black men.
After the article is published, Van Wetter obtains a pardon and is released from prison, and Yardley leaves for New York with a deal to write a book on the Van Wetter case. Van Wetter arrives at Charlottes residence, violently rapes her, and kidnaps her away to the swamp to live with him. Months later, she is unhappy with the abusive, demeaning lifestyle she has to endure, and sends a letter to Jack telling him she now realizes she made a mistake and plans to reunite with him at his father and Ellens wedding reception. However, Jack only finds out about the letter one month later, on the very day of the wedding, when Anita, who has been fired from the Jansen household, gives the letter to him and reveals Ellen decided to hide it from Jack.
Since Charlotte is not there, a worried Jack leaves the party to go find her, followed by Ward, who has lost an eye due to the incident at Ormond Beach and is now an alcoholic. When Jack and Ward confront Van Wetter, Charlotte has already been killed after Van Watter refused to let her leave to attend the wedding. A fight ensues, and Van Wetter kills Ward as well, by slashing his throat with a machete the same weapon the sheriff was murdered with, but Jack manages to evade Van Wetter by diving into the swamp; the next morning, he retrieves Ward and Charlottes bodies and leaves.
Anita finishes narrating by revealing Van Wetter was later convicted for the murders of Ward and Charlotte and sent to the electric chair, yet the identity of the sheriffs murderer was never ascertained. Jack would later meet his mother at Wards funeral, but he would never get over Charlotte.
- Zac Efron as Jack Jansen
- Nicole Kidman as Charlotte Bless
- John Cusack as Hillary Van Wetter
- Matthew McConaughey as Ward Jansen
- Ned Bellamy as Tyree Van Wetter
- Macy Gray as Anita Chester
- David Oyelowo as Yardley Acheman
- Scott Glenn as W.W. Jansen
After the critical acclaim for his previous film Precious, Daniels was sent many possible scripts for a follow up including several lucrative offers. However he decided to pass on these stating that "I couldn’t get off on it" and stating that he instead "went with what my spirit told me to do". Daniels had stated that along with Push, he viewed The Paperboy as "one of the great, great novels". 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.
Daniels was initially nervous about meeting Kidman although he calmed down once she told him "Im just a working girl, Lee. Youve got to direct me." Kidman herself was unsure if she could portray her character, only gaining confidence after Daniels introduced her to several women who, similar to Kidmans character, had romantic involvements with prisoners, one of whom told her that she believed she could portray such a relationship convincingly. During the shoot Kidman only communicated to Cusack as her character, Charlotte, stating "I wanted to deal with him as the character and have him deal with me as the character". As a joke after filming wrapped, Cusack went up to Kidman and formally introduced himself. One notable scene featured Kidman urinating on Efron after he gets badly stung by a swarm of 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 dont put it in the movie, you need to man up."
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 films 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." The Guardian surmised, "those who prefer delicate watercolours had better stand well back. It makes a lurid splash." 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 has 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. Most praise has been for Nicole Kidmans 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". Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian said, "Nicole Kidman really is terrifically good as Charlotte: funny, sexy, poignantly vulnerable". 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." Nonetheless, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists nominated Kidman in the category, "Actress Most in Need of a New Agent."
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 43%, based on 138 reviews. The sites consensus states: "Trashy and melodramatic, The Paperboy is enlivened by a strong cast and a steamy, sordid plot, but its uneven and often veers into camp." The staff of The A.V. Club named it the worst film of 2012. The New Yorker film critic Michael Schulman called the film "deliriously tawdry and nonsensical". Stephen Whitty of the Newark Star-Ledger wrote of the film, "Simply ugly trash," while Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle basically recommended one watch the movie "with the indispensible aid of that wonderful late-20th century invention: fast forward."