I have never read a John Green book. I have had many friends who have read them and read the blurb’s to see if they would interest me. But like I said, I haven’t actually got round to reading one yet, and I didn’t see John Green’s other adaptation, 2014’s The Fault In Our Stars. It therefore seems I would be the most inept person at reviewing Paper Towns, since I have no grounding in the author or his style. Let’s give it a go anyway, shall we?
Paper Towns stars Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith and Halston Sage and is directed by Jake Schreier. Based off John Green’s bestselling teen book of the same name, the story follows Quentin (Wolff) as he follows clues left by his next-door neighbor Margo (Delevingne) to where she has gone. Teaming up with his best friends, Quentin goes on a road trip to try and win Margo’s heart.
The story sounds as clichéd and sickly as it can get. Guy goes on a road trip with his kooky best friends to find an even kookier and manic girl of his dreams. Even though it has original source material, the film feels like it’s a patchwork of other better works. Annie Hall, The Spectacular Now, (500) Days of Summer and even Studio Ghibli’s Ocean Waves, Paper Towns is an amalgamation of them all. But maybe that comes with the fact that the two writers, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have written two out of the four films listed above, along with the other John Green adaptation The Fault In Our Stars. Neustadter and Weber know how to write post-modernist romances, whether it is original or an adaptation. But therein lies Paper Towns’ biggest problem, it feels like it’s trying to imitate the some of the greatest romantic comedies of recent times, even as going so far to get the same writers. But it never feels more than that, just an imitation, a pretender.
That’s not to say the script is bad though. There are some very personal, intimate conversations between our three leads and two of their girlfriends. The characters are a few weeks away from leaving high school, and the film capitalises on these feelings of the ending of great friendships. It leads to the idea that the end of school shouldn’t be about doing things for the last time, but for doing things for the first time. These small moments are littered throughout the film, with my favorites being a fun, little conversation that takes place while two characters are sat in a bathtub and another where two characters are looking out over a city at night. Neustadter and Weber are masters when it comes to creating these small, dialogue heavy scenes, and while that may come from the genius of John Green and the original work, the screenwriters do an excellent job of translating it to screen. It’ll affect and speak to today’s young audience in a way that (500) Days of Summer and Ocean Waves resonated with me at the same age, as the characters talk like real human beings, rather than sounding like a Lifetime Movie of the Week.
The acting seems to be a mixed bag. Most of the time Nat Wolff and his two friends Austin Abrams and Justice Smith fall into tired character tropes lifted straight of earlier films such as Revenge of the Nerds or Animal House. Their characters do grow once the film gets onto the third act road trip, including a raw outburst of something akin to borderline obsession by Wollf over finding Margo, we’ve haven’t seen anything of note during the first two thirds of the movie, making them feel a bit bland.
The actresses fair much better, with Halston Sage and Jaz Sinclair seeming to be much more confident in their roles than the three guys are. Cara Delevingne, however seems to be in a state of flux throughout the entire film. While it looks like she is revelling playing the part of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, it feels a bit overdone. She shares some nice moments with Nat Wollf in the beginning and near the end if the film, but we hardly get to see her throughout the rest of the film’s run time. Her final scene with him however feels a bit slapdash and feels like the director needed to just hit all the story points and didn’t properly allow the film to explain it’s ending.
The final thing I have to say about the film is it has an excellent soundtrack. The music is woven into the film perfectly, accentuating beautiful, crisp moments. One moment near the beginning of the film, where Margo and Quentin are driving through the streets is accompanied by Lost It To Trying by Son Lux. It’s just a small touch, but it elevates the scene to one of the my favorites from the entire film.
In summary Paper Towns divides me like no other film has in recent times. While I like the overall message of the film as well as the dialogue heavy sections where the characters contemplate the lives outside the warm, safe bubble that is high school, it also infuriates me that it just feels like a retelling of formal romance tropes while adding nothing else of it’s own to the remix.
Score: 6/10 Might just be one for the John Green fans.