John Green’s novels have became part of the influx of a new brand of teenage fiction. A text that attempts to offer a more intellectual approach and manner to its young fans, Paper Towns is the most recent Green novel to be adapted for the big screen after the success of the overwrought and emotionally manipulative The Fault in Our Stars. In a similar manner to the earlier adapted novel, Paper Towns features a cast of teens that are far more mature than their real-life counterparts, both in terms of attitude and general discourse (Walt Whitman is referenced extensively).
Quentin, or Q, (Nat Wolff) has harboured a fascination for his next-door neighbour Margo (Cara Delevingne) since they were childhood friends. Over time their previous close friendship, cemented by the joint discovery of a dead man when they were young, drifts apart. Margo, who as Q repeatedly tells us through an often clunky voice over, is a mystery. The mystery of Margo is believed by their fellow high school attendees, and they, like Q, view her as an enigma who is beholden to no one.
One fateful night, Margo calls upon her childhood friend desirous of his help in a revenge plot. Margo has discovered that her boyfriend has been unfaithful, cheating on her with one of her friends. Margo instructs Q that she requires his aid in orchestrating her nine part plan. During their time together Q believes that they have reconnected, with Margo confiding in Q that she views their town as ‘fake’ as if made of ‘paper’. Returning to their homes after the relative success of their revenge plot, Q asks Margo if things will be different the next morning, to which Margo confirms that she hopes it will.
The next day, Q, clearly believing that their time together meant something is keen to speak to Margo, but she has gone, leaving town without a word to anyone. Time passes and the mystery of Margo leads to ever-hyperbolic conjecture and suppositions. Q, obsessing over Margo’s disappearance, searches for clues, believing that Margo is sending him a message for him to rejoin her in her new destination.
Pseudo-intellectual teens are a favoured concept, and for me, there is no comparison to the sublime films of John Hughes. Hughes, through his devotion to the plight of the teenage experience, wrote films that rang utterly true and real. Unfortunately, for me, it is this question of reality and believability in which, Paper Towns and indeed John Green struggle with. The camaraderie between Q and his two friends for example, who join in with his search to uncover the whereabouts of Margo, feels stilted and false. As someone who interacts with teenagers on a daily basis I can say with some authority that Q and his friends are about ten years ahead in maturity than they should be. The cult of Margo too, despite Delevingne’s best efforts, isn’t enough for us to truly invest in.
That is not to suggest that Paper Towns is a terrible film, far from it. There are some rather wonderful moments, particularly the vistas of the city during Margo and Q’s night of terror. The soundtrack too, is well-chosen, helping to both emphasise and imbue the film with the characters’ emotions. The cast are all perfectly serviceable, and as mentioned, Delevingne is impressive in her first major role, helping to convey some of Margo’s magnetic appeal to her fellow classmates. The film should also be commended for its inclusion of black characters (in the form of Q’s best friend Rader and Rader’s girlfriend) who are not simply there to add the stereotypical sass or humour, but are rather fully formed characters with their own motivations and desires.
Perhaps I was expecting too much from Paper Towns, but given the plethora of similar films that are available all made in the same ilk, Paper Towns needed to do a lot more to truly make it memorable.