Cast – Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Justice Smith, Austin Abrams, and Halston Sage.
Alluring element – Another John Green book comes to the big screen. Another giant victory for Nerdfighteria! Check it out if you liked – The Fault in Our Stars, Perks of Being a Wallflower
Plot – 7 Acting – 9 Representation of Genre – 9 Cinematography – 8 Effects/Environment – 7 Captivity – 7 Logical consistency – 6 Originality/Creativity – 7 Soundtrack/Music – 7 Overall awesomeness – 7
As an avid Nerdfighter and John Green fan, I was extremely excited to see Paper Towns when it came out this weekend. The Fault in Our Stars was such a brilliant adaptation of my favorite book that I was confident the same team would bring a similar energy and passion to the project. Unfortunately, while their passion for the project was evident, their decision to change the ending bothered me considerably.
Paper Towns tells the story of Quentin (Nat Wolff), a senior in high school who is hopelessly in love with his childhood best friend and neighbor, Margo (Cara Delevingne). While the two drifted apart after finding a dead body in a park when they were young, Quentin is still totally enamored by her. Margo is everything he’s not. She’s edgy, confident, and goes on crazy adventures one could only dream of. She is the “it girl.” Until her boyfriend cheats on her, that is. She crawls into Quentin’s room one night and drags him into a crazy night of revenge. Afterwards, she disappears save for a few clues that Quentin is convinced are from her. He spends the rest of the movie trying to track her down with the help of his two best friends, Radar and Ben and Margo’s best friend, Lacey.
Paper Towns is one of my favorite books and influenced my view on life significantly when I was in high school. It made such an impact on me, I contemplated changing my last name to Roth in honor of Margo’s middle name. Its message of imagining people complexly is something that I strive to do in my every day life. However, that message didn’t come through as strongly in the film adaptation as I was hoping. While I enjoyed that the film had quite a lot of detail from the book such as Margo’s sTraNGe cApiTAliZatIOn and Radar’s house filled to the brim with the world’s largest collection of black Santas, the changed ending negated a lot of the complexity of the story. Before I get to that, though, let me talk about what I did like about Paper Towns.
The fact that they made a movie of this book at all is great. We need more films about the complexity of human beings. We also need to break down the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. Girls aren’t there to fix boys or bring them out of their shells. They aren’t plot devices. This movie — at least for the most part– achieves that.
It also challenges the audience to live their life to the fullest and do things that don’t always make sense. It makes us want to take a crazy risk, which is something that translates well from page to screen. It’s a good coming-of-age movie and the first two thirds of it is pretty great. While it didn’t drive home the moral of the story as much as I was hoping, it does open up a dialogue about not believing someone is more than a person. It’s a complex movie, but not as complex as I was hoping for. It’s a watered down version of the book, but a good watered down version.
Nat Wolff is the perfect Quentin. I love that he brought aspects to the character that I hadn’t thought about when I read the book. He made him more obsessed and a bit of an asshole, which is something I hadn’t pictured before, but realized I should have. There were a few times when I thought, “Quentin’s not this much of a dick,” but overall, I liked the complexity.
I absolutely adored Radar and Ben in this. They may have been my favorite part of the movie. They’re just as hilarious as they were in the book and provided some much needed outside input. Justice Smith and Austin Abrams brought amazing life to these two characters.
Cara Delevingne was also great in this, though I felt that she wasn’t working with the same character material as the book. She still breaks down the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, which again is great and needed to be done. She’s also just a really adorable, strong and funny person in real life.
Ansel Elgort’s cameo was absolutely hilarious. I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw him. It was a good nod to the fans.
Overall, it wasn’t a bad movie. It was actually pretty good, unless you’ve read the book or wanted the ending to be messier than it was. That brings me to what I didn’t like.
The only thing that really bothered me about the film was the ending; but it bothered me enough that I had to talk about it. It’s sort of key to the whole meaning of the story. The way it ended was almost completely fabricated for the sake of the film and not in a way that serviced the moral. In the book, it isn’t just Quentin who finds Margo. Radar, Ben and Lacey are all there to witness Margo’s new haven. And she isn’t sweet and apologetic. She screams and throws a fit and can’t believe they showed up out of the blue. Margo wanted to disappear. It’s revealed that she didn’t leave Quentin clues to find her, but to leave the abandoned Osprey to him. She’s furious with him for seeing her as this broken, lonely thing that he needs to find and take care of. “You didn’t come here to make sure I was okay,” she tells him. “You came here because you wanted to save poor little Margo from her troubled self, so that I would be oh-so-thankful to my knight in shining armor that I strip my clothes off and beg you to ravage my body.” The relationship between Quentin and Margo is much more complicated in the film than it was in the book. Quentin is obsessed with Margo and doing a disservice to who she really is, and Margo is a little insane with no regard for how her choices affect other people. While they end things on a good note, it takes time and a fair amount of arguing to get there. Margo gets mad before she admits she was wrong, but even then refuses to fix things back home. Quentin learns that he shouldn’t expect people to live up to his imagination of them and that expecting Margo to fall in love with him when they hadn’t talked in years was unrealistic and unfair. None of that was in the film.
Film Margo is lovable. She’s irresponsible but relatively sane. We’re not mad at her when she’s finally found. It doesn’t bother us that she’s not going back with Quentin. Margo is still the whimsical, amazing girl we fell in love with. She’s just on her own now. Book Margo is frankly not a very good person and challenges the way we look at people. When we read Paper Towns what we’re expecting is this great reunion and lovely ending of “Oh, Q! You found me! I’m so glad!” but what we actually get is much more interesting. We get a lost, crazy girl who just wants everyone to leave her alone and stop playing her up to be someone she’s not. What I loved about the ending of the book is that it shows even someone who seems to have everything together is just as scared and alone as everyone looking up to them. No one is perfect. Even someone as exciting as Margo has big, gaping flaws that terrify her. Book Margo teaches us to look at the whole of a person; not just the parts we want to see. That’s the point of Paper Towns as a book.
The film was less than successful at this endeavor. The only time Margo’s flaws are really mentioned is when Lacey brings up the fact that Margo wouldn’t go searching for any of them if they went missing. Sure, Margo talks about not wanting to be seen as something she’s not, but talking about it doesn’t make the audience feel it. The book’s ending was much more effective in this sense because it shows us she’s broken and mad about how people view her. It doesn’t just tell us she’s kind of bummed about it. It makes us want to do better than Quentin when it comes to imagining the people we love.
Quentin isn’t really affected by finding Margo in the film. He gets on a bus, goes back to Orlando and still imagines her as this beautiful creature. The film ends with him talking about all the things people think she’s doing and how he thinks whatever she’s up to, it must be amazing. He doesn’t learn to imagine people complexly, which was sort of the whole point. By changing the ending, this lesson doesn’t come across as strong as it did in the book.
Perhaps I would have enjoyed Paper Towns more if I hadn’t read the book, but I think by changing the ending, the filmmakers lost a wonderful opportunity. It’s not a bad movie by any means. It has a lot of great qualities and is overall a good coming-of-age story. I go back and forth between liking it and being upset about the change. I’m happy to see another John Green novel be made into a movie and I may even see it again to further understand why they changed what they did. However, if you loved the book like I did, you might be a little disappointed.