Paper Towns

What’s really “paper” here is the protagonist.
Movie Review #993


Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber seem to have a knack for unconventional romantic dramedies. That’s become more obvious with every movie they’ve made, up to now. “(500) Days of Summer” and “The Spectacular Now” both benefitted from the candid, free-spirited nature of their writing. Ditto last year’s “The Fault in Our Stars”, the duo’s first adaptation of a novel by John Green. it sounded rather promising that the duo had signed on to write another Green adaptation, “Paper Towns”. But I guess the two of them realized that Green has a sizable fanbase who will accept anything that bears his name at face value.

We’ve seen the pattern before in book-based teen dramas. I bet many will recall 1983’s “The Outsiders”, but not its followup “Rumble Fish”. Likewise, I highly doubt “Paper Towns” will be very well remembered 30 years from now. It isn’t a very memorable movie. I often felt like I was watching a watered-down, YA version of last fall’s “Gone Girl”. The only real difference here is that it’s the protagonist’s neighbor that goes missing, not his wife. Clearly, the protagonist, whose name is Q, wants it the other way around, but the neighbor, whose name is Margo, just isn’t interested. After all, she hasn’t spoken to Q in about nine years.

“Paper Towns” opens up on the last night that Q sees Margo before she disappears, and presumably the first time he’s seen her in a while. They spend a few hours during the late evening getting back at her cheating ex-boyfriend, as well as everybody who knew he was cheating and never thought to tell her. This first thirty minutes of the movie is like a completely separate film. It’s sets the movie up with a fun, adventurous, nighttimey setting, and on top of that, it benefits hugely from the spirited quality that has made previous Neustadter-Weber films so good. What’s more, Cara Delevingne anchors it with a great performance.

Even after she’s run away—apparently for the fifth time thus far in her life—Margo is what keeps us interested for most of the movie. Her personality seems to maintain a state of presence both through discussion of her character and through the clues that she leaves, which lead to her hiding place. “Paper Towns” deals with the conflicting interests of the unlikable narrator and his more rational friends. They keep reminding him that they only have a few weeks until they go off to college and won’t see each other ever again, but all Q wants to do is find Margo. He has their company in searching for her when he’s looking for clues that lead to her location because that’s a moment they can look back on; same with the road trip they take to New York State once he’s figured out where she’s gone missing. This is far from the first time that Margo has run away, so Q knows just as well as the rest of his friends that she’s going to be back home in no time at all. Yet despite this, he won’t give up looking for her until he’s found her.

We’re supposed to ultimately feel bad for how far Q goes just to find out that his whole experience with Margo is unrequited love. That’s something we’d already figured out much earlier in “Paper Towns”, though. The movie falters mostly on account of its protagonist. He’s not very likable, and he’s practically translucent. The movie likes to think it’s as emotional as the one which preceded it. Surely it could have been, but much of the movie just feels slightly too obvious. That’s not because the towns are paper. It’s because the protagonist is.


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