A paper town stands as a dot on a map,
The mapmaker’s special distinguishing mark
To make it his own and to fool any sap
Who happens to visit the place on a lark.
You may well have hopes for that fake little dot,
Which only arrival can fully repeal.
When maps are affirmed by a town that is not,
The rest of the dots become all the more real.
MPAA rating: PG-13
After John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars was translated into such a successful young-adult film in 2014, the same studio heads apparently hoped that lightning could strike again with a second Green adaptation, this time Paper Towns. Since Paper Towns was written in 2008 without all the hype of Fault in Our Stars, the film version was an understandably lesser release, and mixed reviews didn’t help. And yet…I enjoyed it a lot, perhaps not more than Fault but on something of a more personal level.
After playing Gus’s friend going blind in Fault, Nat Wolff steps up to lead character status as Quentin Jacobsen, or Q, one of those awkward, easily relatable high-schoolers that tend to be YA protagonists. As a kid, he befriended his adventurous neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne), but as the years passed, he settled into mundane normalcy while she became an ever more reckless local legend. His crush on Margo doesn’t diminish with their lack of contact, though, and when she unexpectedly asks for his assistance on a daring night of revenge, he tags along with sheepish compliance and has one of the best nights of his life. And then she vanishes, apparently to satisfy her wanderlust, but Q finds clues to her whereabouts and feels compelled to follow her.
Paper Towns has identifiable ingredients from other recent YA films, from The Fault in Our Stars (Green’s subtly profound dialogue, an urging to live life to the fullest) to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (the sex-obsessed friend, the quirky family details). Whereas both of those dealt with the serious issue of cancer, Paper Towns keeps itself lighter, transitioning from enigmatic mystery to memory-making road trip, peppered with endearing character interactions. It was these small moments between the characters that left me with a smile more often than not. Q’s pals Radar and Ben are archetypal buddies, the former a slight nerd with girlfriend anxiety and the latter a swaggering goofball, but their conversations felt realistic and fun, like when they all segue into a Sean Connery accent. I do that myself sometimes! Probably my favorite moment came when a suggestion to sing leads the three to start in on the Pokémon theme song with growing exuberance. I know not everyone is into Pokémon (and I couldn’t care less about the recent Pokémon Go fad), but that original theme song is an ever appealing source of nostalgia for my generation. After all, how many people still remember the words to some show’s opening that they grew up watching? For me anyway, it was a terrific scene.
Despite the enjoyable moments, including a great little cameo, the end of the film’s journey is almost sure to disappoint the audience as much as it does the characters. It’s meant to be disappointing, and yet it still finds an uplifting message through it all. Q’s course seems analogous to that of Tom in (500) Days of Summer, keeping romantic hope alive until reality makes him recognize his target girl is someone not meant to be followed. It’s rather jarring, but the breaking of Q’s obsession helps him to see what he’s been missing and, as cliché as it may seem, to value the journey over the destination.
Paper Towns is by no means perfect or free of annoyances. I was frustrated, for instance, with how not one, but two characters bemoan how others see them when they themselves promote that very image. While the performances in Paper Towns are worthy all around, The Fault in Our Stars is probably the better film, if only for its more sober subject matter. Yet, as I said, I found myself enjoying Paper Towns more than its film predecessor, and since they’re both John Green adaptations, I don’t mind putting them on the same level in my esteem.
Best line: (Q) “What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”
Rank: List-Worthy (tied with The Fault in Our Stars)
© 2016 S. G. Liput
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