Paper Towns: It’s (Mostly) Better On Paper

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Paper towns, full of paper people, living in their paper houses – brought to life.

The latest on-screen adaptation from John Green (The Fault in Our Stars) introduces the uninitiated to Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne) – the coolest, prettiest, and inarguably most popular girl in your average suburban Florida high school. Her free-spirited reputation precedes her by miles, whether or not the stories of traveling in a circus or with a rock band are ultimately true. She’s the type of enigmatic character you’d love to go on an adventure with, but are instead left chasing.

This is exactly the position in which we find Margo’s neighbor Quentin (Nat Wolff). As someone on the wrong end of an unrequited love (that, admittedly, he creates by building up the idea in his head that his ‘miracle’ in life was ‘living across the street from Margo’), Quentin would do just about anything to be with Margo. Coincidentally, it’s this undeniable truth that makes it all the easier for Margo to enlist Quentin in a late-night revenge plot against her cheating boyfriend and supposed friends, despite the fact that she and Quentin have scarcely spoken since childhood.

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Ever the romantic optimist, Quentin interprets their moonlight escapade to mean he has a shot with the girl of his dreams. That is, until she vanishes.

No note, no explanation, just gone. As Quentin presciently states, “Margo always loved mysteries. Maybe she loved them so much, she became one.”

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But you can’t give up on true love that easily, right? After spotting what he thinks is a clue that Margo left for him, Quentin is determined to find his ‘miracle.’ Helping him along the way is his bravado-inclined friend Ben (Austin Abrams), his (almost) always levelheaded friend Radar (Justice Smith), Radar’s girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair), and Margo’s friend Lacey (Halston Sage).

Just how far will they have to go to find her? Will they find her at all? What’s a “paper town”? Rev up the minivan and tag along to see for yourself.

In the spirit of full disclosure, yes, I’ve previously read the novel. I think John Green is great YA author, capable of eliciting a powerful emotional response with even the simplest of passages.

Unfortunately, as is usually the case, it’s difficult for on-screen adaptations to recreate the magic and meet the expectations set by a quality novel. There was nothing ‘bad’ about the film, but it hit the predictable snag that most book adaptations do – much of it moved at far too frenetic a pace, losing a good deal of the exposition that made the story and its connections so strong in the first place.

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HOWEVER, in an interesting turn, while I’d argue that the first 85 percent of the book is better than the film, I’m inclined to say the final 15 percent or so on screen is a more fitting ending than what we receive in the book. As you may have surmised, the endings are not quite the same. Without spoiling the rewrite, I will say the character behavior at the end of the novel has always struck me as a little off. In that sense, I found this new ending more satisfying and congruent with how I had imagined it playing out.

Nat Wolff (The Fault in Our Stars, Stuck in Love) continues his ascent as a young actor on the rise, having proven himself a YA fan favorite and more than capable dramedic actor. As Quentin, he captures an apt mixture of hopeless and romantic. Cara Delevingne (Anna Karenina) is another star making a name for herself, successfully leveraging her modeling career and talent in front of the camera into an acting career. She portrays a more toned-down version of Margo in the film, which plays to her natural strengths more often than not. Keep an eye out for her performance in next summer’s Suicide Squad.

Abrams, Smith, Sinclair, and Sage are shorted bits of exposition their characters receive in the novel, but all deliver believable, if not wholly original, portrayals of their high school archetypes.

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As mentioned, author John Green adapted the novel with screenwriting assistance from Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who have previously worked together on a number of films, including The Fault in Our Stars, The Spectacular Now, and (500) Days of Summer. Obviously, the script was in safe hands. At the helm, relatively green director Jake Schreier (Robot & Frank) adds his own personal touch, creating a depth and “bigness” for scenes that might otherwise have felt restricted by plot or set scope.

Lastly, but not to be forgotten, Paper Towns delivers a pretty solid soundtrack, featuring the likes of Vance Joy, Galantis, Group Love, and the apropos breakout hit “Search Party” from Sam Bruno. Give it a listen.

Can Quentin truly be in love with Margo if he doesn’t really know her? That’s the question to focus on as you watch the story unfold. Whether you’ve read the novel or not, Paper Towns is worth a watch.

3.5/5 reels

PG-13

109 min

Director: Jake Schreier

Starring: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne

US Release: July 24, 2015, Fox 2000 Pictures, Temple Hill Entertainment

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