Like Most Teenagers, Paper Towns Aims For Depth But Lacks Much Substance.
Director: Jack Schreier.
Writer: Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber.
Starring: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Halston Sage, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith.
Where's It Playing: Everywhere.
When you weren't looking, the young adult novel industry underwent a pretty massive sea change. All of a sudden, these books stopped dealing with the fallouts of some dystopian future, and started focusing on existential, I-need-to-find-myself crises.
On paper, I suppose that's fine. But, on film, telling a story about a teenager dealing with these issues is a pretty tough thing to do without every major character coming off sounding like some sort of angsty brat.
And, to be sure, Paper Towns, based on the novel of the same name from John Green (The Fault In Our Stars), boasts its fair share of angsty brats. And the results here are mixed: Sometimes the film is poignant and sweet; other times, you'll find yourself rolling your eyes at these kids and their actions.
The premise is kind of all over the place, but it starts here: While growing up in Orlando, Quentin (Nat Wolff) falls in love with the girl next door, Margo (Cara Delevingne). She is everything he is not and, to her peers, she's the stuff of legends: She's vivacious, precocious and popular; she also marches to the beat of her own drum, and has a habit of running away from home while leaving clues behind so that her little sister doesn't worry too much. Then there's Quentin: He's quiet, he's never skipped school and his circle of friends is small and made up of people who share his nerdy qualities. In their younger years, these two were close — until, y'know, growing up happened.
The drama starts when these two come back together and Margo ropes Quentin into a revenge plot meant to embarrass her cheating boyfriend and his friends. Quentin has never done anything like this before, so he's timid at first. Eventually, though, Margo begins to break his nervous exterior, and Quentin feels more alive than he ever has before. Then, right after their night of mischief, Margo disappears — only, this time, it's Quentin for whom she leaves behind her clues. And with his friends by his side, Quentin embarks on his quest, all the while wondering if Margo even wants to be found.
As a character, Margo is infuriating as all get out. She's supposed to represent this vagabond mentality who's been disguised as a Manic Pixie Dream girl in Quentin's square everyman perspective. Unfortunately, the film tries too hard to make her quirky and weird. Her actions and dialogue are fairly insufferable. For instance? She refuses to capitalize the first letters in any sentence. Instead, she capitalizes random letters — because, as she puts it, “the rules are so unfair to the letters in the middle.”
Ugh. No one thinks or talks this way!
Quentin and his friends feel far more genuine. There's a real chemistry at play between him and his pals Radar (Justin Smith) and Ben (Austin Abrams) as they aim to make the last few weeks of their senior year count. For them, this Margo adventure feels like a last hurrah, something outside of their comfort zone and, really, just the type of adventure that we all wanted to have with our friends growing up, something we'd never forget.
With these three there are both charming and actually humorous moments. Take, for example, a certain “situation” in their car trip where a character has to go to the bathroom really bad: It eventually escalates into the biggest laugh of the film.
If only the movie had more moments like this and less angsty teenage crisis.
Maybe the book is different. I don't know; I haven't read it. Maybe it has more character development for Margo, in particular. I hope it does. Because, based on her character on the screen, Margo isn't even remotely likable. In real life, her self-absorption would prove tiresome for most anyone. Add in the fact that she never seems happy, not even when she finishes one of her adventures, and I really don't see how either the characters on the screen of the people watching them are supposed to admire her at all.
I'm sure there are those out there who will appreciate seeing their favorite book brough to life on screen. As for the rest of us, though? Unless watching some sad guy pine over an angsty and elusive girl for a couple of hours sounds like your kind of party, you can go ahead and skip this one.