Director: Jake Schreier
Writer: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Based on: John Green‘s novel
Cast: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Halston Sage, Jaz Sinclair, Jay Duplass, Ansel Elgort
Seen on: 6.8.2015
Quentin (Nat Wolff) has been in love with Margo (Cara Delevingne) since she moved in across the street. They were friends for a while, but now nearing the end of high school, they both move in different circles now. Then one night, Margo climbs into Q’s bedroom and takes him and his car on a revenge trip against her ex-boyfriend. Q is exhilarated and has hopes for Margo again. But then she is gone, run away from home as she has several times before. But Q finds clues she’s left where she might have gone to and decides to go on a roadtrip with his best friends Radar (Justice Smith) and Ben (Austin Abrams) to find her.
If this wasn’t based on a book by John Green, I probably wouldn’t have seen it at all. But since it is, I had hopes that the wouldn’t play the manic pixie dream girl trope quite as straight as the trailer suggested. I was correct in thinking that, although they don’t manage a complete subversion of the trope. But at least it’s entertaining and sweet and it tries.
In Q’s mind, Margo is the quintessential Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She’s quirky. She’s exciting. She’s full of energy. She defies conventions. She is mysterious. She can’t be understood. She’s perfect in her ineffability. But she’s also something he has to conquer, he has to prove worthy of her and then she’ll be his reward. So he deciphers her clues. He goes on that roadtrip. He throws caution to the wind. And he catches up with her – and she is horrified. She didn’t want to be found. She got lost for a purpose. And she certainly doesn’t plan on being Q’s reward for anything. In that sense, Paper Towns dismantles that trope very nicely.
But then it also falls flat: after all, Margo does kiss Q in the end, giving him a reward even if it’s not the beginning of their romance. But even more importantly: the entire story is still about Q, an entitled suburban boy with his head up his ass in a not unloveable way. And Margo is still a prop in his story. Only instead of teaching him how to live and then how to love (romantically), she teaches him how to live and how not to love (romantically). The movie doesn’t care for Margo, why she chooses to run away, what her inner life looks like beyond her bouts of teenager wisdom, what happens to her. It hints at the fact that she is going through her own growth process, but it rather doesn’t spend much time on that when it can spend time with Q and his friends.
Speaking of Ben and Radar: hello cliché is all I can say to that constellation: you got the nerd who best friends with the funny, if slightly disgusting one – Ben – and the black one – Radar. They are joined by Lacey (Halston Sage) the beautiful girl who suffers so much because people never see the brains behind her face and therefore, of course, throws herself at the first guy who doesn’t seem to only want to look at her. Saving grace in that group of friend is Angela (Jaz Sinclair) and the relationship she has with Radar which is so cute in its (mostly successful) attempts at maturity and honesty. I wish the movie had been about them.
But despite all these issues, I enjoyed Paper Towns. It is a sweet film with good pacing, fine acting, a perfect cameo by Ansel Elgort (I might have to add “do you like dragons?” to my pick-up line repertoire) and an infecting energy. And since it has its heart in the right place and tries very hard, I willing to overlook a few blunders.