Like 90% of teenaged Tumblr users, I saw John Green’s newest book adaption movie, Paper Towns. And like 80% of that same community, I read the book – which I thought was alright – prior to watching it and hoped that doing so would amplify my enjoyment of the film. Unfortunately, the movie left me very disappointed.
Q (Nat Wolff) falls in love with a girl named Margo (Cara Delevingne) the moment she moves in across the street when the two are very young. He remembers a bike ride when the two came across a dead man in the park. Flash forward and Q is a bit of a loser and a little sad, both in the mental and pathetic senses of the word (which is how you can describe almost every protagonist of Green’s), while Margo is hot and popular. They now rarely communicate. But have no fear, she randomly shows up at his window one night and the two go on an adventure of revenge, a revenge-ture. Afterwards, she disappears. Q feels it’s his destiny to find her and brings along his two friends, Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith), to do so.
Elements of the plot and theme are skewed between the movie and book. In the book, Q’s search for Margo and his relationship with both her and the idea of her is under the spotlight. In the movie, the focus is shared between the three friends and each of their desires, dimming the spotlight on Q’s story. Gone are the scenes of him frantically searching different “Paper Towns” and coming up empty or scouring through the Wordsworth poem for a clue. I’m not saying that watching someone read or seeing someone drive alone to an empty place would’ve been exciting, but I am saying that these events in the book helped increase the tension and importance of the whole situation. While watching Radar and his girlfriend subtly struggle and then eventually have sex in the woods is cute, it takes away from the story. Rather than there being a main plot with two other subplots, each character got their own rushed storyline.
This rushed feeling isn’t helped by the fact that none of the actors gave a captivating performance, particularly Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne.
My biggest grief was with the theme I took away from the movie. Margo runs away from home for no real reason except that she thinks everyone is “paper.” Basically, she’s saying what most teenagers complain about all the time: Everyone is fake except me. When she is finally found by Q, they exchange a couple words and she is the same, somewhat overdramatic person she has always been and then Q leaves her there. As the movie ends, he shares some fond words about her. This makes it seem as if Margo really is the living legend she longs to be, the legend that everyone thinks she is.
One of the best parts of the book was that when Q finds her, he realizes she’s just a normal, attention seeking person and that anyone can be a legend when they’re mysterious. That’s the whole point of even mentioning the dead guy in the beginning – he’s such a big part of both Margo’s and Q’s lives because they didn’t know anything about him; He becomes a legend to them, but not rightfully so. The dead man is a normal person, just like Margo, only he is dead and Margo is not. That was completely lost in the movie.
Overall, I would not recommend seeing Paper Towns. The theme is all wrong and some of the scenes are cringe-worthy due to awkwardness. Paper Towns didn’t have a good chance of being a stellar movie to begin with, a lot of the excitement in the book centers around Q’s inner monologue during events that are just a notch above mundane. It is not a good movie, not even for fans of the book.
Personally, I’m still waiting for a movie of Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan – my favorite book from either author.