My Rating: 8 out of 10
As someone that spends a fair amount of time on YouTube, I am quite familiar with John Green while being very much unfamiliar with his writing. Before The Fault in Our Stars film was released last year, I read Green’s novel and was impressed with how he wrote in a way that was at once simple and meaningful. I wasn’t blown away by the story, nor did I get as emotional as some of my other friends, but I understood why Green’s writing resonated so strongly with young people.
I remember having a conversation about The Fault in Our Stars with a friend of mine who always criticized Green for pandering to teenage audiences in order to make a name for himself. My friend acknowledged Green’s intelligence and skill, but thought he was holding off on creating an opus to exploit a type of simpler writing that could make him more money. While I didn’t go crazy over The Fault in Our Stars, I also didn’t quite agree with my friend’s line of thought. I always believed that Green chose young people as his audience because he had something to say to them, but it wasn’t until I saw Paper Towns that I understood the truth behind my assumption.
Having not read the Paper Towns book, I can only speculate on the amount of influence Green had on the finished product, but from the overall feel of the tim as well as some interviews I’ve seen in the passed few months, I would venture to say that the themes in the movie were lifted directly from the novel. Paper Towns is the story of Quentin Jacobsen or “Q” (played by Natt Wolff), a pretty average high school boy in his senior year, who is visited one night by Margo Roth Spiegelman (played by Cara Delevingne), his neighbor and secret crush. The two embark on a night of mischief as Margo tries to get revenge on her cheating boyfriend and the friends that wronged her, while showing Q how to get out of his comfort zone and live life to the fullest without being overly concerned about consequences. The next morning, however, Margo has gone missing, leaving Q a trail of clues with which to find her.
This movie is in many ways more relatable than The Fault in Our Stars and has far more to say to its audience. For people in their teens and twenties especially, who are trying to figure out the confusing and frightening next steps of their lives, Paper Towns has a ton of advice to impart. One of the major themes being that we should all understand that not all aspects of life are completely within our control and that sometimes we need to step outside our comfort zones in order to realize the things we have.
Q is a person that has planned out most of his life before even finishing high school and Margo helps him realize that it is within his power to not worry so much and instead do things that can make him happy in the moment. However, the most important theme in the film is that we need to learn to see other people for who they are and not label them or put them up on a pedestal. Nearly every character in the film needs to grapple with this issue at once point or another. The ever present paper metaphor is a reference to this notion that as humans (especially in our teens), we tend to generalize about people or project onto them aspects that we want them to have without actually taking the time to truly know that person.
Green takes the time to look at and deconstruct stereotypes, but in a way that isn’t typically done in modern media. Instead of looking at how culture degrades people and makes them feel less than they are, Green tackles the issue on the opposite end of the spectrum in which we treat people as more than they are, thus dehumanizing them. As a self-proclaimed unpopular kid in high school, Green understands the plight of Q and his friends and can relate to their skewed perspective of the social structure because he probably shared their feelings to at least some extent as a teen. But due to Green’s ability to look back and see things for how they really were, he is in an excellent position to share his experience and conclusions through his characters. However, we see through the course of the film that while it is imperative to breakdown our perceptions about each other, doing so will sometimes make us closer and will sometimes push us apart.
These themes are explored at length, all within the confines of a really interesting, fun, and thought provoking, coming of age story. The film uses plenty of literary story telling techniques to get its points across and the actors do a spot on job of portraying the characters that they play. Another great aspect of Green’s approach to writing is that even the secondary characters are fully realized individuals that are there to do more than just move the plot along or pander to Q. With that being said, Green did occasionally use certain characters as a mouthpiece to make his points. Margo’s character especially was constant spouting poignant and important philosophies, but it was easy to see the hand of the writer moving her through those motions. This is something that Green did heavily in The Fault in Our Stars, but which he used sparingly in this film, opting instead to show us his ideas through the story instead of heavy-handedly telling us them through his characters.
There are not really anymore negative things I can say about the film other than some very minor plot holes and the fact that it may not resonate as well with older people or younger teens since it is so focused on relating the experiences of a specific age group in order to impart information for that age group. But for anyone in their teens or late twenties or anyone who still relates to people within that age group, Paper Towns has so much to say and deftly recreates an important crossroads in the lives of many people when we are moving on to new things. Green makes sure to point out that instead of focusing on the things that are coming to an end during such moments, it is important to remember what we have and look at all the new beginnings appearing before us. The end of the journey is important, but not as important as all the stuff that happens along the way. I am excited to read the novel of Paper Towns in order to see just how much of this superb movie was pulled from Green’s own writing.