Paper Towns is based on a novel by John Green – the same guy that wrote The Fault In Our Stars – and that for me is all the promotion it will ever need.
John Green is one half of popular youtube channel vlogbrothers and is one of the most genuine, compassionate, educated and generally cool people I have ever known to exist. He and his brother Hank have my utmost respect. Their tagline DFTBA (Don’t Forget To Be Awesome) is a light-hearted ethos to inspire. I have it as my facebook cover photo, on my corkboard and on a t-shirt.
Together they have consistently been producing four minute videos at least once a week for over five years while branching out to other areas of media. Their endeavours are countless. After the blinding success of the Fault In Our Stars the studio approached John about adapting another of his novels. He joyfully agreed and signed on to executive produce.
Paper Towns stars Nat Wolff (The Fault In Our Stars) as Q and Cara Delevinge (Suicide Squad) as Margo in a love story that switches gears into a mystery. After a night of revenge Margo vanishes and Q recruits his friends to track her down by deciphering a series of clues. The film’s namesake is a reference to the pre-determined and manufactured factors of life. Without too many spoilers here the mystery snowballs into a road trip with Q and his friends in search of Margo.
It’s such a cliché to say that the film is not verbatim to the novel. They are entirely different mediums with their own nuances and should be treated individually. For instance, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets director Christopher Columbus omitted Nearly Headless Nick’s 252nd deathday party to streamline the film and keep John Cleese happy. While the scene would have been a cute piece of film it ultimately added nothing to the story and its absence from the film series isn’t a wound.
On the other hand Paper Towns felt like too much of a departure from the source material. The novel paced the events over a longer time frame and really immersed Q in the world of Margo in spite of his impending graduation. In the film graduation is supplemented for prom – the midway point of the novel – and there is little personal loss to Q.
The film’s title is also a reference to Margo’s state of mind. The novel doesn’t just flirt with suicide – it presents it as the most likely outcome. It invites you to believe a disenfranchised teen that witnessed a trauma early in her life has slowly been giving up. The final night of revenge was the last straw and if she is not dead she will be if Q does not find her. The urgency is legitimate – not a manufactured concept like prom that flies in the face of everything that Q and Margo stand for.
So the folks that adapted the plot to a movie’s runtime failed entirely. They didn’t get it. Even with the author slipping notes across the table they failed to grasp the source material adequately and cut the legs off the film before it had a chance. Yes, suicide is a gloomy topic. Yes, this will sell to a larger market. No, it was not half as faithful to the novel as The Fault In Our Stars.
Otherwise, it was a cool film. Cara Delevinge could read the phonebook and it would get positive reviews. Her soul is genuine and infectious. Suicide Squad is lucky to have her, and yes, I appreciate the stark irony here.
Nat Wolff was a risky choice. It’s his first time leading a film and there were moments that it showed. Q is probably the most sombre romantic lead of 2015, contrasting to road-trip-love-story with a sharp twist tone that the studio was aiming for. Was this the misguided writers again or was Nat Wolff the only one being faithful to the source material?
It’s not all bad. The supporting cast are electric. They’re basically all unknowns – Justice Smith did a few episodes on Nickelodeon, Austin Abrams did three episodes of The Walking Dead, Jaz Sinclair did three episodes of Rizzoli and Isles and Halston Sage did a scene for Bad Neighbours. Combined they offer a brighter context for the ensuing mystery and keep everything teen-friendly.
The final glaring difference to the novel is the inclusion of Angela, portrayed by Jaz Sinclair. It made so much more sense for Radar, the most likable character of the series, to bring his girlfriend on his great adventure and the film is better for it. Similarly Austin Abrams transforms the least likeable character Ben into a good friend with a different frame of mind. Points there.
Ultimately it feels like it lost a lot in translation, sucking all the gravitas from the big moments to keep the studio happy. The valleys were lowers and the peaks were higher and a slightly watered down version cannot compete with an excellent novel. However, Paper Towns The Movie is not competing with Paper Towns The Book.
Paper Towns The Movie is competing with Ant-Man. And if you have not read the novel I thoroughly recommend it with the same tenacity as I recommend youtube.com/vlogbrothers and the Fault In Our Stars.
If you have read the novel I’ll tell you that unfortunately you may want to limit your expectations.