TL;DR – It’s not a bad film, just somethings do not quite work.
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
Paper towns is a name given to fake towns places on maps by cartographers so that they can check for plagiarism, (as a lover of all things maps, I love little things like this), it is also the name of a book by John Green and now a movie. Before I go on I should mention that I have read the source book (Paper Towns) and overall I had mixed response, some things really worked while others didn’t. I would talk about what those things were, but unfortunately, they are at the core of the book, so we would be not just dipping our toes into spoiler territory but diving head first, which is something I want to avoid. So with this is mind how does the film do? well not bad actually.
The plot of the film revolves around Quentin ‘Q’ Jacobsen (Nat Wolff) and Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne) and how their interactions define their lives (or at least one of their lives). It is an interesting story with a lot of things I like, mystery, sass, obscure cartography references and the realisation that we are uniquely complex individuals. However, not everything in the movie does quite work.
With the casting, Nat Wolff does most of the hard lifting in this film, as you see just about everything from his perspective, which could have been a disaster if the wrong person had been cast, thankfully Wolff pulls it off. Cara Delevingne is really mesmerising and she steals the show in her brief appearances. When it comes to the rest of the cast, I feel we get what happens with (just about) every adaptation, the characters just don’t feel as developed as they could be. It is not as bad for Quentin’s friends Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith) simply by lieu of the fact that they get a lot more screen time due to Quentin being the focus of the film, but it is disappointing that in a film about deconstructing the notion of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl/Boy that the two other female cast Lacey (Halston Sage) and Angela (Jaz Sinclair) feel really underdeveloped and a bit one dimensional.
One of the quirks of adapting anything from one medium to another (in this case a book to a movie) is that you have to change things because the pace of a movie is very different than the pacing of a book. How you negotiate this whilst keeping the core aspects of the source material can make (The Lord of the Rings) or break (Avatar: The Last Airbender) your adaptation. In Paper Towns we get an interesting reversal for me, where I found the start of the book much more enjoyable than the end, it’s the reverse for the film. While in the film the core plot point that starts the adventure off falls a bit flat, (this is something which really worked in the book), whilst the climax of the film worked a little bit better for me than in the book.
One thing that did just annoy me was the film is mostly set in Orlando, Florida but it just didn’t feel like that, it felt like North Carolina (where most of the film was shot). Now as someone who has never visited Florida or even the East Coast of the USA I know I am probably the least qualified to say what does or does not feel like Florida, but it just doesn’t.
That is not to say this is not an enjoyable film, in fact, it is quite enjoyable, with some truly laugh out loud moments, some really fantastic performances (shout out to a certain childhood theme song). Also, it was amusing to realise I was the only one who recognised Green in his cameo. In the end, I know I am probably not the target audience for this film, so you may enjoy this film and the book more than me and that’s ok but I did enjoy the film, it’s just not the best one I have seen this year.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Jake Schreier
Screenplay by – Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Based on – ‘Paper Towns’ by John Green
Starring – Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Halston Sage, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith & Jaz Sinclair
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Ireland: 12A; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13