Saturday, August 15, 2015

Paper Towns

Spoilers are marked.

This story, adapted from the 2008 novel by John Green, is from the perspective of Quentin, a nice but kinda geeky high school senior who is totally head-over-heels for his neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegleman. Margo is basically the most amazing and popular and epic person there is, and sometimes she disappears randomly and goes on grand adventures, always leaving clues to her whereabouts. When she leaves, and leaves clues for Q to find, he is determined to do what no one else has done for her, and find her.

I adored the book. I liked it better than The Fault in Our Stars. (In spite of a considerably more rocky content terrain.)

It's sad, but I'm going to go ahead and say it: this adaptation does not meet the great levels of the source novel. In many ways, it's not even close. Then, in some other ways it's exactly on, only those are the points that are less important.

Quentin is played by Nat Wolff, and he is Q, through and through. That is, his looks and mannerisms are perfect. However, though he looked perfect, he couldn't bring Q to life; through him we don't get to see into Q's mind and heart. Maybe he had it in him and just wasn't given a proper chance to play the part to the level, but the fact remains that the most alive version of Q is still on the page. I loved Wolff's performance is TFIOS, but this one was not done justice.

At the same time, he was the character that was portrayed with the most justice.

Margo is even worse. The thing is, I'm not sure anyone could have played Margo; how do you cast a person who is indescribably epic, beautiful but not typical, and the epitome of awesome, who everyone wants to be friends with? Answer: you don't. But you can definitely do better than Cara Delevingne. She's not a terrible actress, but she's no Margo. She doesn't impress us with the idea that she is an at all remarkable person, let alone an understandably popular one. Margo's unique draw manifested in the book mostly by her way of speaking -- she speaks like John Green writes -- with unabashed poetic feeling, and with elegance and charisma. Here, she dryly drones out shortened, unembellished versions of her animated speeches and they float to the floor like so much blank paper.

-- Spoilers --
Then, the point of the story was destroyed by having her real self not be so different from her fake, paper, "awesome" self. She doesn't get mad at Q for finding her, she doesn't callously not call her family; she doesn't show that she's a selfish, cold, uncaring and faithless individual; she comes across just as nice and fake as before. Her real side is too fake, and her fake side is too real.
-- End --

Is this who teenagers aspire to be like? Should they?

The supporting cast that includes Austin Abrams as Ben, and Justice Smith as Radar all had the required quirks described in the book, but it was like they and the filmmakers were just going through the motions because they had to, and not because they really cared. A small exception for this goes to Halston Sage as Lacey; she had a moment or two more of genuine success than the guys. Radar's girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair) had an expanded role for no good reason. She was good as far as the rest of them, but wasted more time than her contributions were worth.

Adaption-wise the plot basics were there, but the themes were mostly flip-flopped. This movie took the bold and harsh, but true and moving statements from the book, and changed them so that they meant the exact opposite. Only some basics of a few main themes were left intact, but not to the level of boldness it needed. Dark, gritty things were lightened; deep, heartfelt things were made shallow. Any kind of urgency or importance was totally, wantonly gone. The film also went out of its way to keep as much inappropriate content as it could, sacrificing time that could have been full of meaning for empty dialogue that wasn't even funny most of the time.

I would much rather they'd change the plot events and keep the themes and, you know, the story's point.

As to the non-adapting parts of the film-making, there was one interesting shot that had style, and one fun cameo, and a few highlight scenes and moments; the rest of the movie was confusingly dull and muddled. It droned -- like a toy helicopter that doesn't have enough battery power left to get off the ground. I don't know whether or not the director, Jake Schreier, should be blamed for this, but he seems the most likely option. It was nowhere near as lively, sharp and open as it should have been -- as the novel was. It just sits in the book's shadow. Or it is the book's shadow -- it has nothing more to offer, only less. I'm sorry I have to be so hard on this movie. It's really not a terrible film; only in comparison with what should have been. I can't see it without that influencing me, and neither would I chose to if I could.

Paper Towns is not much more than a paper movie of empty entertainment, with teenagers doing their typical empty teenage things, trying to convince you that that's what fun is, and that's what living is, and love is; preaching that you should be real, and all the while on the inside being just as paper as any other empty teenage dramady.


  1. When I read the book, I had Nicholas Hoult in mind for Quentin and Jennifer Lawrence for Margo. They're too old for the movie, so I think I'll stick with the version in my head and skip this one.

    1. That's good casting -- if only they were younger! Or if only they'd made the movie a few years ago... Q is pretty easy, but Jennifer is probably one of very few people who could possibly do Margo justice. I think that sounds like a good plan. I kinda wish I'd done that. :/

  2. I'll see this one when it comes to DVD. Mainly because I was surprised by The Fault in our Stars. :)

    1. I hope you enjoy it, Rissi, though if I were you I wouldn't expect it to quite match up with TFIOS. :)