Paper Towns Review
LOST & FOUND
Last year, The Fault in Our Stars, a teen drama feature, managed to break free from the commonplace blockbusters of the 2014 summer and produce a modest hit. Adapted from the novel by famous teen genre author John Green, had an emotional story with a lot of heart and (aided by its fan base of teenage youth, drove up a pretty sizeable ticket sales. Hoping to catch on with the same cinematic draw and profitability, 20th Century Fox and director Jake Schreier unveil another movie adaptation of one of John Green’s novels with the film Paper Towns. Does this movie find its target audience or get lost its own teen mellow drama?
In the suburbs of Orlando, Quentin Jacobsen (Nat Wolff), a high school senior who has played it straight, is going through the clockwork motions of his life as he secures his future as a doctor. He hangs out with other fellow misfit outcasts Radar (Justice Smith) and Ben (Austin Abrams), but Quentin’s mind is always on female classmate Margo Roth Spieglman (Cara Delevingne), his childhood neighbor from the across the street who follows her impulses and lives life on the edge. On one night, after several years of estrangement, Quentin receives an unexpected visit from Margo, slipping into his room and enlisting his help for a series of revenge plans after she found out that her boyfriend was cheating on her. The two youths playfully reconnect during their prank filled evening together, but the next morning, after their night of revenge plots, Margo leaves home and disappears. Determined to find her, Quentin follows an elaborate set of clues that Margo has left behind, which he interprets as an invitation for a romantic reunion with his longtime crush.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Working at a bookstore, I see the popularity of John Green’s novels with teenagers anxiously waiting to read his work. In addition, Green’s famous book The Fault in Our Stars was and still is a huge success at my store, selling copy after copy to customer. After The Fault in Our Stars got released as a film, I decided to watch it and thought it was pretty good (for a gooey heartfelt teen drama), but I never read the book. A couple of months ago, after seeing the trailer for Paper Towns, I decided to pick up a copy of the book and read it before the saw the movie. After seeing the movie, my resulting reaction is that Paper Towns is it light feature film that, while not as poignant as its peers, is still crafted well with enough care and helping blend of comedy and drama of teens angst.
Director Jake Schreier, who has directed the small and obscure indie film Robot & Frank, approaches Paper Towns with the same notion of whimsy and indie film-like portrayal. Interestingly, Schreier and his film team seem to capture the isolation of teenagers in Paper Towns with it’s on-screen characters having little to no interaction with adult parents / adult counterparts, offering plenty one-on-one screen time with its young adult characters and their activities. Again, its an interesting notion that kind of works for the film. While being a low budget film (roughly 12 million for its production budget) Paper Towns, from a technical standpoint, is actually crafted very well. Camera angles, production designs, and cinematography are presented with healthy dose of intention, making the film, visually speaking, a nice and pretty feature film. The movie also has a good selection of musical songs. The film’s soundtrack includes songs from Sam Bruno, Vance Joy, Haim, Vampire Weekend, and many more. It’s probably not what you would typically hear on a Top 40 radio station, but fits the movie’s youthful vibe in a pleasant and harmonic way.
It also comes as no surprise that Schreier is aided by Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter for the movie’s screenplay (the same pair that penned the film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars) as well as the other indie comedy film (500) Days of Summer. For better or worse, Paper Towns is mostly a “coming of age story”, expressed through its storytelling of Quentin’s journey to find Margo. While this yarn of a tale is nothing new, Weber and Neustadter address its theme and messages by steadily blend scenes of off-beat comedy (a rendition of the Pokémon theme song sung by Quentin and his two friends is the best example) and personal drama of growing up and living life. In contrast, the movie is not as innovative as it wants to be, lacking those elements of which made similar movies in this genre famous. It’s not as funny as Easy A, or dramatic as The Fault in Our Stars, or not as insightful as The Breakfast Club. Alas, Paper Towns falls is somewhere in the middle of the teen film genre. Good, but not great.
Like most “page to screen” adaptations, something gets lost along the way and Paper Towns has its fair share. Several subplots are omitted, certain minor characters are barely present, and a handful of particular scenes are rearranged, including the film’s ending. I personally liked the ending of the movie more so than the book, but that could be just be me. There are still plenty of high school references for both youths of today and older generations (discussions of boyfriend / girlfriend dating status, high school drama, parties, prom, etc). Its overall narrative is left intact (the whole mystery aspect of finding Margo’s clues), but the movie chips away at its source’s sub and minor material.
As I mentioned above, while Paper Towns doesn’t carry a hefty production budget, majority of its cast is relatively new or unknown actors, who actually do a pretty good job in the movie. Having done a supporting role in The Fault in Our Stars as the character of Isaac, Nat Wolff has graduated to lead protagonist for Paper Towns. While he isn’t the most attractive looking, Wolff is very relatable and you (the viewer) surely do emphasis with his character Quentin. Opposite Wolff is British model / actress Cara Delevingne as the elusive Margo Roth Spieglman. Even though she only bookends the front and back of the movie, Delevingne succeeds at creating a mysterious air around her character of Margo while also subtly expressing something troubling underneath her whole “cool girl” persona. She’s also very pretty to look at and I can’t wait to see her as the Enchantress in 2016’s supervillian team up Suicide Squad.
Along with the two leads, the film’s supporting cast has a strong presence from such relatively unknown group of actors, deriving from either good writing or by their performance. Austin Abrams and Justice Smith play Quentin’s best friends, Ben and Radar, who get their characters from the book correctly, while also adding their own personal quirks and deficiencies throughout the film. Halston Sage plays Lacey, Margo’s longtime best friend, and turns a refreshing performance from the stereotypical archetype of “best friend”. In more minor capacity is actress Jaz Sinclair who plays Angela, Radar’s girlfriend. Sinclair’s role is not as important to the story, but her inclusion is a welcomed one as she does a good job in making the most of her time on screen. Lastly, for those interested, keep your eyes peeled on a cameo appearance for a familiar face from The Fault in Our Stars film.
Paper Towns is gentle movie that won’t offend anyone as it makes its intentions known and respects its themes and messages. Its narrative (though tweaked for its theatrical debut) is still left mostly intact and the movie’s writing, directing, and acting are presented in a favorable light. While it may not be the most ground-breaking or compelling coming of age story, Paper Towns is still enjoyable as a feature film. I wouldn’t say it’s the quintessential film for its genre, but I personally liked it and I say that’s worth a glance, proven to be better than some generic run-of-the-mill teen movies. If you a fan of Green’s written work, or looking for date night film to watch, or just in a mood for light movie, Paper Towns is the perfect choice to get lost in and to be found.