The Paperboy (2012 film)

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The Paperboy
The Paperboy.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLee Daniels
Produced by
Written byLee Daniels
Pete Dexter
Based onThe Paperboy
by Pete Dexter
Music byMario Grigorov
CinematographyRoberto Schaefer
Edited byJoe Klotz
Nu Image
Lee Daniels Entertainment
Distributed byMillennium Films
Release date
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$12.5 million[1]
Box office$3.78 million[2]

The Paperboy is a 2012 American crime drama film co-written and directed by Lee Daniels and based on Pete Dexter's 1995 novel of the same name. The novel was inspired by a true story. It 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, Nicole Kidman, David Oyelowo, John Cusack and Macy Gray.

The film was produced by Daniels, Hilary Shor, Avi Lerner, Ed Cathell III, and Cassian Elwes. It premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival on May 24, 2012[3] 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.[4] Despite its mixed reviews, Kidman's performance drew Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations.[5]


Anita, the former maid of the Jansen family, recounts the events of the summer of 1969 when Ward Jansen, an idealistic reporter, came back to his hometown of Lately in Moat County, Florida, to investigate the events surrounding the 1965 murder of a violent and unscrupulous local sheriff, Thurmond Call. Hillary Van Wetter, a swamp-dwelling alligator hunter and small-time criminal, is on death row for his murder. Ward and his colleague, Englishman Yardley Acheman, both investigative reporters with The Miami Times are back to help exonerate him.

Charlotte Bless, from Mobile, Alabama, had fallen in love with Van Wetter after only exchanging correspondence. They had never met but she was determined to prove his innocence and get him released so they could marry. Charlotte requested the help of Ward and Yardley who then hired Jack, Ward’s younger brother, 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 father's latest girlfriend, Ellen. Jack works as a paperboy for his father's business after having been expelled from college for emptying the pool. That ended his prospective career as a professional swimmer. His only real friend is Anita who helped Ward bring up Jack after their mother left them.

Some evidence against Van Wetter was “lost” so Ward and Yardley are confident they can expose Van Wetter as a victim of redneck injustice. Meanwhile, Jack has fallen in love with Charlotte who tells him she loves Van Wetter. One day at the beach, Jack gets stung by many jellyfish and has a life-threatening allergic reaction. Charlotte saves his life by urinating on him, an embarrassing situation. His father promptly exploits this in an article in his newspaper that he has made Ellen Editor-in-Chief of. Anita suggests that Jack can never stop thinking of Charlotte as she is his first true love and has given her his mother’s ring.

Van Wetter is hostile to the reporters at first. Contrary to the romantic portrayal he had painted of himself in his letters to Charlotte, he reveals himself to be racist, sexist and crude. One day after finally acquiring some potentially useful information from Van Wetter, the Jansens travel to meet Van Wetter's Uncle Tyree. Tyree is the only one who can corroborate Van Wetter's alibi. 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 to admitting his own crime to save his nephew's life, but finally says it is true.

In the meantime, Yardley and Charlotte visit 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 Van Wetter and his uncle. 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 Yardley's motives Ward decides to check the truth in Ormond Beach himself with Jack and Charlotte in tow. On the way Ward gets drunk at a bar and approaches a black man. During the night, Charlotte wakes up Jack after hearing alarming sounds from Ward's room. They find that black man and several others beating Ward’s bloody, naked, and hogtied body on top of plastic on the floor. Ward is taken to the hospital.

While Ward is still in the hospital, Jack goes to Miami to try to convince Yardley not to publish the article in his brother's name without checking all the facts first. During the confrontation, Yardley reveals he's 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 Ward's guilty, self-hating infatuation with black men. Jack does not resent Ward for secretly being a homosexual or for "what he was into," but just for keeping this side of his adult life from him.

After the article is published Yardley leaves for New York with a book deal. Van Wetter obtains a pardon and is released from prison. He arrives at Charlotte's residence, violently rapes her and takes her to the swamp to live with him. Months later she is unhappy with the abusive, demeaning lifestyle and sends a letter to Jack telling him she realizes she made a mistake and plans to reunite with him at his father's wedding reception. However, Jack receives the letter at the reception from Anita one month later. Anita had been fired from the Jansen household and told Jack it had been Ellen’s decision to keep the letter from him.

Charlotte is not at the wedding. Worried, Jack leaves the party to go rescue her with Ward who is now an alcoholic and has revealed that the anonymous developer does not exist, casting doubt on Van Wetter's alibi. When Jack and Ward confront Van Wetter, Charlotte has already been killed by Van Wetter who had refused to let her attend the wedding. A fight ensues and Van Wetter slashes Ward’s throat with a machete (the sheriff had also been murdered with one). Jack dives into the swamp and evades Van Wetter all night. The next morning he retrieves Ward’s and Charlotte's bodies and leaves with them in a boat.

Anita concludes the narration by revealing Van Wetter was later convicted for the murders of Ward and Charlotte and sent to the electric chair, yet the sheriff's murder was never solved. Jack later saw his mother at Ward's funeral. He would never get over Charlotte.



After the critical acclaim for his previous film Precious, Daniels was sent many possible scripts for a follow up including several lucrative offers.[6] 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".[6] Daniels had stated that along with Push, he viewed The Paperboy as "one of the great, great novels".[6] 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.[6]

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."[7] Kidman herself was unsure if she could portray her character, only gaining confidence after Daniels introduced her to several women who, similar to Kidman's character, had romantic involvements with prisoners, one of whom told her that she believed she could portray such a relationship convincingly.[8] 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".[8] As a joke after filming wrapped, Cusack went up to Kidman and formally introduced himself.[8] 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 don't put it in the movie, you need to man up."[7]


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'."[9] The Guardian surmised, "those who prefer delicate watercolours had better stand well back. It makes a lurid splash."[10] 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 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.[11] 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".[11] Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian said, "Nicole Kidman really is terrifically good as Charlotte: funny, sexy, poignantly vulnerable".[12] 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 [sic] 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."[13] Nonetheless, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists nominated Kidman in the category, "Actress Most in Need of a New Agent."[14]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 45% based on 146 reviews, with an average rating of 5.12/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "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."[15] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 45 out of 100, based on 38 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[16]

The staff of The A.V. Club named it the worst film of 2012.[17] The New Yorker film critic Michael Schulman called the film "deliriously tawdry and nonsensical".[18] Stephen Whitty of the Newark Star-Ledger wrote of the film, "Simply ugly trash,"[19] while Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle basically recommended one watch the movie "with the indispensable aid of that wonderful late-20th century invention: fast forward."[20]


Singer Mariah Carey wrote and recorded a song titled "Mesmerized" for the film's soundtrack.[21] The song, however, was not released to coincide with the film. It was released on October 2nd, 2020 on her special collection of previously hard-to-find and unreleased songs, The Rarities. The song was produced by Carey along with Loris Holland and Randy Jackson.


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 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
Nicole Kidman Nominated
Worst Film Lee Daniels Nominated
2012 Austin Film Critics Association Awards AFCA Award Special Award for the Best Body of Work Matthew McConaughey Won
2012 Central Ohio Film Critics Association Awards COFCA Award Actor of the Year Matthew McConaughey Won


  1. ^ "The Paperboy (2012) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved February 23, 2018.
  2. ^ "The Paperboy (2012)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 23, 2018.
  3. ^ "The Paperboy: Cannes Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
  4. ^ "The Paperboy". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
  5. ^ "Cannes Film Festival 2012 line-up announced". Time Out. Retrieved April 19, 2012.
  6. ^ 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 August 22, 2016.
  7. ^ a b Buchanan, Kyle. "Lee Daniels on Directing The Paperboy and That Notorious Scene With Nicole and Zac". Vulture. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
  8. ^ a b c Brooks, Brian. "The One Thing Nicole Kidman Wouldn't Do For Lee Daniels' The Paperboy". Movieline. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
  9. ^ Collin, Robbie (March 13, 2013). "Were critics wrong to boo The Paperboy?". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved May 31, 2013.
  10. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (March 14, 2013). "The Paperboy – review". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 31, 2013.
  11. ^ a b Collin, Robbie (March 14, 2013). "The Paperboy, review". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved May 31, 2013.
  12. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (May 24, 2012). "Cannes 2012: The Paperboy – review". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved May 24, 2012.
  13. ^ Pande, Sophia (February 1, 2013). "Must See: 'The Paperboy'". Nepali Times. Retrieved February 5, 2013.
  14. ^ "2012 EDA Award Nominees – ALLIANCE OF WOMEN FILM JOURNALISTS". Retrieved October 20, 2019.
  15. ^ "The Paperboy (2012)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 13, 2020.
  16. ^ "Prospect Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved May 13, 2020.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ 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'.
  19. ^ Whitty, Stephen (October 5, 2012). "'The Paperboy' review: Trash, flash and a sassy Nicole Kidman". nj. Retrieved October 20, 2019.
  20. ^ LaSalle, Mick (October 4, 2012). "'The Paperboy' review: Misses the porch". SFGate. Retrieved October 20, 2019.
  21. ^ @MariahCarey (May 2, 2012). "lil' excited to share with you that I wrote a song for Lee Daniels' new movie "The Paperboy" called Mesmerized!" (Tweet). Retrieved May 3, 2012 – via Twitter.

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