The Paperboy – A Tale of Murder, Mystery and Maybe a Dose of Justice in the Deep South
Here’s as movie that took everyone by surprise when it first burst onto the screen in 2012. Called everything from a work of storytelling genius to the most delightfully brilliant trash-fast ever put to the silver screen, everyone got something a little different out of The Paperboy. The critics were split right down the middle and it seems the viewing public shared the same opinion. But no matter what you made of the main plotline itself, the compelling side-stories or the rather shocking way things finish up, The Paperboy is a movie that’s not easy to get out of your head.
And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?
The Paperboy – Background and Plotline
Ward Jansen – better known as Matthew McConaughey to you and I – is what you could call a bit of an idealistic kind of reporter. He and his younger brother Jack Hansen – played by Zach Efron in the movie – take it upon themselves to head out and try their best to uncover the truth behind a grizzly murder and a man now on death row. Hillary Van Wetter was tried and convicted of the brutal murder of one sheriff Thurmond Call. Van Wetter – played by the inimitable John Cusack – is spending his days on death row waiting to head to the chair. Despite all the reason in the world to murder the sheriff, everyone in town had an axe to grind with his rather OTT approach to keeping the peace. And as the Jansen brothers aren’t wholly convinced the right man was sent down for the crime, they set about reexamining the case.
Ward’s English buddy Yardley Acheman joins them for the ride and so too does Charlotte Bless – aka Nicole Kidman. Bless has a somewhat…well, very odd relationship with Van Wetter as despite the fact that she’s never met him in person, she’s agreed to marry him. Her only contact with him has been in the form of equally odd mail correspondence, though she’s nonetheless in a unique position to help the brothers with their investigation. She’ll do pretty much anything to make sure he gets released so he can marry her and she is in no doubt whatsoever of his innocence. That is, despite him clearly coming across as a Grade A freak.
As Miami Times reporters, Ward and Yardley are the idea candidates to snoop into all elements of the story and see if there’s anything missing. Ward heads back to the family residence though isn’t exactly won over by the women his father has chosen as his new partner. Nevertheless, his father and father’s new girlfriend are distributors for the Miami Times and are therefore good to have on board…or so it seems.
As for Jack, he’s the undeniable black sheep of the bunch who may have thrown away a promising swimming career after being caught vandalizing school property. He took it upon himself to empty the pool…which he insists is a much bigger deal than it sounds…and was summarily kicked out. Now, he lives as something of bedroom-dwelling paperboy with little more to do each day than slob around in his underpants. Nevertheless, it isn’t long before he’s wholly swept up into a world of weirdness the likes of which he probably never banked on.
Jack’s relationship with maid Anita – played brilliantly by Macy Gray – is extremely central to the whole story. She’s pretty much been his rock ever since his mother walked out on the family for parts unknown. The two have a uniquely special relationship that’s part maternal, part best buddies and all quite charming…sometimes.
As for the case, the group decides that there are too many holes in the Van Wetter away and believe that if they crack the case, they’ll come away with one hell of a story. Of course, things don’t go quite as easily as expected and the first bump in the road hits when Jack falls head over heels in love with Charlotte. As his first love she becomes something of an obsession for him, though she makes it abundantly clear that Van Wetter is the only guy for her.
Evidence mounts as they make their enquiries and it eventually seems all-but certain they’re actually right about Van Wetter. The only question being – will it be enough to secure his release? And if it does, what will happen with him and Charlotte when he’s made a free man?
Strap yourself in for a rough ride as this isn’t like any newspaper report you’ve ever come across in your life!
The first ever showing of The Paperboy came at the 65th Cannes Film Festival on May 28, 2012 where it’s safe to say a fair few didn’t know what to make of it. Some left blown away and others delivered their own hammer-blow by way of less-than ideal reviews. However, there were also unconfirmed reports that it managed to draw the longest consecutive applause at the entire festival, which apparently went on for no less than 16 minutes!
Reviews and Reception
As already mentioned once or twice, The Paperboy represents the quintessential movie that splits both audiences and critics right down the middle. It’s the kind of storytelling that you either get or you don’t, but in any and all cases there’s no disputing the exceptional acting and the brilliant writing at play throughout much of the movie.
The tastefulness of certain scenes may be debatable…wait until the jellyfish do their thing…but at the same time these are what make The Paperboy the movie it is.
Here’s what influential critic Roger Ebert had to say about The Paperboy:
“The Paperboy” is great trash, and as Pauline Kael told us, the movies are so seldom great art that if we can’t appreciate great trash, we might as well not go at all. This is a humid, deep South wallow in raunch, with the wrong man on Death Row, the right man lurking in a swamp with his inbred family, a dead sheriff, a curious newspaper reporter, a slutty blond slattern, the younger man who adores her and alligators, lots of ’em. I know exactly the kinds of people who booed this film at Cannes. They cheer minimalist dirges filmed in gloom and defiant obscurity. I sometimes admire such films. But with “The Paperboy,” you have to wade in there up to your waist and be prepared to take all necessary measures against jellyfish.
The UK’s Telegraph newspaper also seemed to get a kick out it and wrote the following:
“Shyness and squeamishness are repeatedly punished. In an already infamous vignette, a flustered Jack runs into the sea for a cooling swim – only to be lashed by jellyfish tendrils and then doused with a jet of steaming urine, as Charlotte drags him up the beach, hunkers down and gamely applies the remedy. 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.”
As for The Guardian, it was a similar tail of praise where due for a wholly unique concept:
“Yardley and Ward and Jack and Charlotte are crucially shown hanging open-endedly around all summer long, waiting for a break, nursing their suspicions and frustrations. The point is not Van Wetter. The point is them: all four of them (five if you count Anita, whose unhappiness is so well performed by Gray) placed in a position of uncomfortable, revealing proximity, vaguely feeling that times are changing. It’s the no-particular-place-to-go lassitude that brings out the movie’s enigmatic tone: comedy, tension and resignation on the long slide to disaster. That tonal poise is, perhaps, not maintained in the film’s final moments. But it’s a smart, aggressively pointed picture. Those who prefer delicate watercolours had better stand well back. It makes a lurid splash.”
It’s really impossible to put it in any better or more appropriate words as The Paperboy delivers more of an experience than a simple viewing or couple of hours’ entertainment. And regardless of whether or not you’re in the pool that gets it, you’ll definitely have certain elements of the movie bouncing around your head for some time to come.
The Paperboy Trivia
Here’s a few little facts and trivia tidbits you might want to impress your friends with…or not!
For instance, while Sofia Vergara was first in line for the part of Charlotte and eventually replaced by Nicole Kidman, Jack was originally supposed to be played by Alex Pattyfer. It was also revealed that none other than Pedro Almodóvar was very close to joining the project, which would have made The Paperboy his first every English language movie. He eventually pulled out of the idea, though his influence on the scrip remained.
If it wasn’t for a series of scheduling conflicts, it would have been Tobey Maguire playing the role of Ward. And while Macy Gray did an amazing job portraying Anita Chester, the first pick for the role was actually none other than Oprah Winfrey!
Source of all photos: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1496422/mediaindex?ref_=tt_pv_mi_sm