Paper Towns is based on the novel of the same name by The Fault in Our Stars author John Green, and it has advertised itself in much the same way. While that ultimately proves to be rather misleading and will probably never have Fault’s fanbase, Paper Towns shows itself to be a well made movie in it’s own right.
Quentin Jacobsen (Nat Wolff) has been in love with his neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne) since they were kids and the two quickly become close friends. Unfortunately for Quentin, they both fall into different crowds as they get older and gradually drift apart. Then one night, late into their senior year, Margo unexpectedly sneaks in through Quentin’s window to recruit him for in a revenge scheme against her cheating ex-boyfriend and her back-stabbing friends. The next day, Margo has seemingly disappeared without a trace but Quentin begins to find clues she left behind and enlists the help of his best friends Radar (Justice Smith), Ben (Austin Abrams) and eventually Margo’s former best friend Lacey (Halston Sage) to figure out what the clues mean and hopefully find Margo.
As far as the adaptation goes, some details have naturally been changed mostly for pacing, but the important scenes from the book are left mostly intact and Paper Towns generally stays faithful to the spirit of the source material. The downside to this is that film ends up having the same problems as the book, which to me is the main characters.
Quentin is an easy enough kid to like for the most part, but occasionally there are scenes where his obsession with Margo can make him completely aggravating to watch. Once he gets Radar and Ben in on the search for Margo, he constantly expects them to drop whatever they’re doing to help him out all so that he can find a girl that, let’s face it, he barely knows. They’re usually happy to help but the second they decide they might actually want to do something else with their last weeks of high school (one last party, spending time with a girlfriend, prom night, etc.), Quentin acts like they’re the ones being selfish. At one point, Quentin even favorably compares himself to Captain Ahab and one of his friends has to point out to him that being like Captain Ahab is not supposed to be a good thing.
As annoying as that can be though, Quentin can at least be seen as a believable teenager which is certainly more than I can say for Margo. Virtually every line of dialogue she speaks makes her sound less like a high-schooler and more like one of those pretentious philosophy students that likes to say stuff that sounds deeper and more insightful than it actually is. The film has good intentions in teaching it’s characters to seize the day but it becomes a problem when they take this advice from Margo since her general idea of this is to run away so many times that her parents don’t even bother filing a missing persons report anymore. I’ll give the movie credit for showing that Margo had her own personality outside of the greatly unrealistic fantasy Quentin has built of her in his mind, but once the myth of Margo has been removed, she just isn’t that interesting. As a matter of fact, she comes off as so impulsive and self-involved, the real mystery begins to be what Quentin ever saw in her in the first place.
To be fair though, the movie mostly has the book’s strong points as well. While Quentin and Margo have trouble acting like believable teenagers (which I attribute more to the script than the actors), Paper Towns gives a relatively accurate picture of what it’s like when you’re finishing high school. You’re excited to move into the next phase of your life but at the same time the idea of moving on from everything you’ve ever cared about can be a scary thought and it’s not hard to see that in our characters, especially Radar and Ben.
As a matter of fact, Radar and Ben are easily the most relatable, enjoyable, and well-rounded characters. As Quentin’s friends, they naturally do everything they can to be supportive of his obsession (by Quentin’s own admission) but they also aren’t afraid to call him out when he takes things too far or whenever they need to remind him that they have their own lives and issues to deal with outside of his infatuation with Margo.
This is far from a perfect high school movie (in my mind Perks of Being a Wallflower probably comes the closest), but it’s made with enough enthusiasm and heart that it can be forgiven for it’s shortcomings. While Paper Towns clearly (and understandably) rides the coattails of The Fault in Our Stars success, they have their own story to tell and they tell it fairly well.