If John Green thinks he can be the new Nicholas Sparks, I’m perfectly okay with it. Having only written four novels (six, if you include books he’s written with contributing authors), Green is one of the most popular writers in young adult fiction, whose work includes the smash hit The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and, of course, Paper Towns. Two of them (Fault and now Towns) have been adapted into feature films. Looking for Alaska is on the way. It’s a good time to be alive.
But those who were fans of The Fault in Our Stars (it made my best of the year list) and are expecting another tear-jerking romance tale have another thing coming. Those who read the book will know that Green has scrapped the worn out romance clichés (even though there are clichés here that run amok) and has replaced them with a fun little Gone Girl-like mystery story that is, as you would expect, much lighter than Gone Girl, but still retaining a sweet but somewhat bitter end that may be hard for some to swallow)
The story, incase you haven’t read the book or watched any trailers, introduces Quentin Jacobsen (Nat Wolff) and Margot Roth Spielgelman (Cara Delevingne), two star crossed lovers with only one of them knowing about it. That’s obviously Q, and living across the street from Margot Roth Spiegelman (the book makes it clear that we’re to always call her by that name because it’s part of her mythology) is what he believes to be his own miracle. But as the two grow up, they drift apart; he keeps to his friends Ben and Radar, and she becomes the popular hot chick that barely gives him the privilege of a glance.
Until one night when Margot Roth Spiegelman shows up at his window and requests him to be her getaway driver in a night he won’t forget. She unleashes a revenge plot against her ex-boyfriend who has been cheating on her with her best friend and Q is loving his life. Sparks are flying. The connection they had when they were little, riding their bikes down their suburban neighborhood (in an impressively stunning use of camerawork, I might add) has been retained. Life is good. Until the next day, when Margot Roth Spiegelman disappears.
It’s clear from the beginning that no one is really concerned about her disappearance. Not even her parents care, and they go on about how she is just hungry for attention and she’ll return when she runs out of money. And it becomes more clear that she purposefully ran away when Q discovers clues left behind for him to find, which makes him believe that Margot Roth Spiegelman is telling him, “Come find me.” So Q unites with Ben and Radar and they set out to find Margot using the clues she left for them.
As a small little mystery film with a romantic subplot and an overarching theme of friendship and priorities, Paper Towns works. Just like John Green’s novel, this movie inspires us to live on the edge, as we track with Q, who doesn’t really put himself out there until Margot Roth Spiegelman shows up at his window. As Q, Nat Wolff (he played Isaac in Fault) is fine, even if his casting seems to be just based on his experience with John Green’s material in the past.
If you’ve read the book, you know that Margot Roth Spiegelman isn’t a huge part of the story, even though she is, in a way, the biggest part of it. Out of all of the main characters, she has the lesser amount of screen time, but getting the star of the upcoming Suicide Squad was a wise choice. Cara Delevingne is very, very good as Margot (didn’t feel like typing out the entire name again), and she adequately transfers everything about her character to the screen well.
The movie isn’t particularly boring, but it does have its slow moments, and there are times in which it becomes unclear just when the film is going to take its turn toward the third act. But fans of the book who go in expecting a pure adaptation with no changes will be let down. No SeaWorld? No… well, I won’t spoil what the movie leaves out and what it doesn’t. But I could write an entire piece on why movies don’t need to follow books to be good, but hey, that’s for another day. The main thing is, Paper Towns, just like most book-to-movie adaptations, leaves things out, and it all turns out okay.
The last thing I want to touch on is the script, which is what had my attention from the beginning. Scott Nuestedar and Michael H. Weber are two of the best romance writers working today, with movies like (500) Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now, and The Fault in Our Stars; all three of which are, in their own ways, insanely good. And while Paper Towns isn’t the best of those movies, it’s still a competently written piece of work with fun dialogue, even if the narrative and the introductory monologue feels a bit out of place and rushed. I’m so on board for these two to be writing Looking for Alaska, which will mark their third time adapting one of Green’s novels.
What I’m most grateful for in this era of John Green romance movies (and that isn’t just limited to Green himself, but also includes other authors like him) is that it retains what the struggling Nicholas Sparks string of movies has been trying to do for years in the shadows of the enormous YA fantasy nonsense. These movies are presenting real life relationships with flawed characters and genuine connection and emotion. I’m thrilled that the modern YA crowds are rushing out to see a movie about a girl with cancer who finds love, or a movie about a boy and a girl who are completely different but have a history and a connection. That trumps the Twilight craze any day.
1 hr. 49 mins.
Rated PG-13 for some language, drinking, sexuality and partial nudity – all involving teens
Starring Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne
Written by Scott Nuestedar and Michael H. Weber
Directed by Jake Schreier