A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Paperboy is a '60s-set thriller from Precious director Lee Daniels about several volatile relationships surrounding a convicted murderer. It's astoundingly violent, with lots of bloody murders and scenes of torture and blood. Nudity isn't prevalent (though viewers do see both naked tops and bottoms), but sex is: One main female character has sex with three other characters, and one scene is very violent (it's not clear whether she's experiencing pleasure, pain, or both). Language is likewise strong, with pointed uses of "f--k," "s--t," and the "N" word, as well as tons of sexual innuendo. There's also heavy drinking. There are no role models here, and not much to be learned. Teens (and younger) may be interested thanks to star Zac Efron (who joins Nicole Kidman and Matthew McConaughey), but this one is best saved for adults.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In hot, sultry 1960s Florida, journalists Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) and Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) arrive in tiny Moat County to write a story about a prisoner, Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), who may have been wrongly convicted of murder. Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman) also tags along; she's written to Hillary in prison, has fallen in love with him, and plans to marry him when he gets out. Unfortunately, Ward's younger brother, Jack (Zac Efron), who's recruited to drive this motley crew around, has fallen for Charlotte. This volatile combination will most certainly lead to trouble, but will it also lead to murder?
Is it any good?
One of this film's big mistakes is the casting of Efron, who may be easy on the eyes but has barely any personality; whenever he's on-screen, which is most of the movie, the scenes deflate. He can't sustain any dramatic tension with his co-stars. Otherwise, Daniels' uneven, lopsided narrative goes too far in spots and not nearly far enough in others. He fails to generate any suspense, and, despite all of the movie's sex, fails to titillate. The only thing The Paperboy does manage is a general sense of unpleasantness.
Decades ago, there was a subgenre of drive-in and exploitation movies about a frightening class of horrible people who lived in swamps. The Paperboy could have been one of these, except that it doesn't feel like anyone is having much fun. His last time out, director Lee Daniels earned an Oscar nomination for Precious, and it looks like he's throwing in everything (kitchen sink included) into THE PAPERBOY to prove that he can do it again. (Unfortunately, he can't.)
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The Paperboy's violence. Why is it so extreme? Do the filmmakers want to shock you? Is it necessary for the story?
Is the sex in this movie based more on power or on partnership? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
How does this movie deal with issues of racism in America in the 1960s? Is it insightful or upsetting?
Are there any role models in this movie? Who's the most admirable character, and why?
- In theaters: October 5, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: January 22, 2013
- Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron
- Director: Lee Daniels
- Studios: Millennium Entertainment, Millennium Films
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 107 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong sexual content, violence and language
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
For kids who love thrills
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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