Paper Towns (2015)
Director: Jake Schreier
Starring: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams, Halston Sage, Justice Smith, Jaz Sinclair.
Plot: A young man and his friends embark upon the road trip of their lives to find the missing girl next door.
John Green’s novel, “Paper Towns” was brought to the silver screen this summer with Nat Wolff as protagonist Quentin “Q” Jacobsen, and Cara Delevingne as his love interest (and mystery personified) Margo Roth Spiegelman. Q has been madly in love with his neighbor, Margo, since they were children. They drifted apart over time until one night, in their senior year of high school, Margo knocked on his bedroom window and captured the timid boy in a whirlwind of adventure. They’re shown driving around Orlando all night, executing Margo’s hilarious revenge plan. She helps him step out of his comfort zone before mysteriously disappearing the next morning. Wanting to experience more, Q enlists the help of his friends and begins a road trip to find her, using the clues Margo left behind.
I walked into the movie theater with high expectations which, I know, can be a big mistake, especially when it comes to book-to-film adaptations. However, I wasn’t disappointed by “Paper Towns.” Director Jake Schreier and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber really captured the themes of the popular John Green novel in the visual form. It was actually kind of amazing to see the characters I had become so familiar with, either through the book or through my research, come to life on the silver screen.
As a whole, the cast worked very nicely together. They had an effortless chemistry that led you to believe they had all been very close for years – this was the case, more specifically, on the road trip and in the party scenes. Even if they were just getting to know each other, there was a natural cooperation – a give and take – that made the scenes pleasantly effortless. Nat Wolff’s portrayal of Q’s apathy toward high school contrasted beautifully with Cara Delevingne’s depiction of Margo’s infatuation with life, even though the scenes leading up the adventure, when they’re buying what they’ll need, fell a bit flat. During those scenes, when the audience is really getting to know Margo for the first time, Q is supposed to be filled with this nervous, electric, attractive energy towards her and Nat Wolff doesn’t convey all that much emotion; well, not until their “love scene,” that is.
At the end of their adventure, before Margo goes missing, the duo casually walk into the SunTrust building with help from the night security guard and the scene that follows is beautiful. It was brimming with raw emotion. Delevingne didn’t just recite lines about the paper towns and paper people that surrounded Margo, she added depth to them. She revealed a hollowness in Margo’s character that demanded to be filled by either the audience’s projections of themselves or by Q’s imagination of the girl he thought she was – the girl he thought he loved. Delevingne’s portrayal of a person desperate for answers was further impacted by Wolff’s embodiment of a boy who craved love and perfection. When they danced to the music echoing through the air around them, there was a sadness, a nostalgia almost, for what could’ve been and what could never be. You’re reminded of this, once again, when they return home at the end of the night. The way Cara hugs Nat seems so genuine that it pulls at your heart strings, almost making them ache.
However romantically tragic and haunting Q and Margo’s adventure together may have been, the actor who really stole the show in the long run was Austin Abrams who played a very well-written Ben Starling. Ben not only acted as a mirror for the main character Q, similarly to Margo, but also acted as genuine comic relief when the story started to get too heavy. For those familiar with the story, mis-imagining people is the most important theme in both the novel and the film. Abrams’ perfectly timed, ever-so-charming quips and mom jokes let the viewer see that it’s possible to project yourself onto a person even if he is unapologetically himself – even if there isn’t a hollowness to him. It can actually be argued that this makes Ben just about as important as Margo because when Q expects Ben to be someone he’s not, Radar (Justice Smith) tells Q that he’s being unreasonable. There it is, a string in Q starts to break. His vision starts to clear and from that moment until the end of the movie, Q learns how he wrongly imagines those around him – he expects more of them than who they are. In the movie, it may seem like just another passing phrase or scene but watch carefully, it’s much more impactful than you’d first think and is evidence of something more complex being at play.
So far I’ve only mentioned how the themes and characters have stayed loyal to the book, not what was changed. A viewer that hasn’t read the book wouldn’t notice the changes, but a fan might not notice them all either, because Neustadter and Weber are very talented screenwriters (some of my favorite actually). Firstly and most obviously, the romantically sad scene at the top of the SunTrust building in which Margo bares a part of her soul to the audience was actually supposed to take place in SeaWorld. The duo was supposed to break in, have their heart-to-heart and dance surrounded by fish and other aquatic creatures. However, SeaWorld wanted compensation if it were to be featured in the movie – money that the producers were not willing to give. The writers adapted accordingly, merged the SunTrust and SeaWorld scenes from the book and even made it a highlight of the movie. If you ask me, SeaWorld missed out on good press and free advertisement considering “Paper Towns” made over $60 million worldwide.
Another change was an addition to the road trip, along with when in the school year the road trip took place. In the book, Q, Ben, Radar, and Lacy (Margo’s best friend played by Halston Sage in the movie), skipped graduation and packed into Q’s minivan to find Margo. In the movie however, Angela (Radar’s girlfriend played by Jaz Sinclair) joined the group as they left to find Margo right before prom. Adding Angela to the road trip was undoubtedly a plus. Not only is Jaz Sinclair witty, but she also breathes new life into her character. We aren’t too familiar with Angela in the book, but Sinclair brings her into a new and considerably more relatable light. Also, the bond that Angela and Lacy share on the road trip rivals that of Q’s sidekicks, the comedy duo, Radar and Ben (who are also the ladies’ love interests respectively).
Now, honestly, I’m not sure how to feel about the road trip happening earlier in the school year as it gives the viewer room for closure. “Well, isn’t closure a good thing?” you might ask. Yes and no. The movie is wrapped up in a nice neat bow; everything is okay; everything is the way it should be. The book’s ending is more abrupt. The way the book ends plays on the idea that no matter what happens, no matter how we imagine people and no matter how we react to certain situations, life goes on. It’s not always happy, it’s not always perfect, it just is. And yes, the screenwriters tried to capture this in the film, but it’s unavoidably more fluffed up. You almost get a feeling of complacency in thinking about the future instead of a slightly discomforting uncertainty that’s meant to make you think. As for what the actual ending is, well you’ll just have to see the movie to find out.
Don’t get me wrong, though, “Paper Towns” really did deliver. I thought I had learned all I could from this storyline after I had read the book and had done character research, but I was wrong. The actors brought the characters to life, whether it was in watching Q breaking out of his comfort zone and accepting his friends for who they are instead of who he wants them to be, or Margo’s brutal honesty, not just in the SunTrust building but towards the end of the film when she explains why she disappeared. Whether it was in Austin Abrams’ overt comedy or Justice Smith’s deadpans; Lacy’s wanting to be seen as more than just a pretty face or Angela’s straightforward, “I know who I am” attitude. the six core teenagers in the film executed two specific feelings almost perfectly: 1) the feeling of loneliness in the misconceptions people have about you, and 2) the feeling of finding yourself with the help of loved ones close to you.
I really enjoyed the film and would highly recommend it. It’s because of this (and a few surprise cameos) that I would give the film a…