After the novel, The Fault in Our Stars, I was very annoyed, slightly angry, gun-shy, and determined to avoid John Green as long as possible. I knew that eventually curiosity and the belief that any author deserves a fair shot would get the better of me. Even while resisting however, my eye has been on Paper Towns. Something about the plot sounded fun and adventurous. The exact opposite of TFIOS. Last week I finally watched the trailer for the film, and decided to go for it. And I did. And I loved it.
Normally I wouldn’t have watched the movie first, but I needed reassurance that the book was a story worth spending time on. A two-hour movie is also less of an emotional commitment than a 350-page novel. John Green had not yet gained my trust. Now the book is at the top of my YA to-read list.
Young and shy Quentin is in for the night of his life when Margo, the most popular student in high school, recruits him to help her play mischievous pranks on the friends who betrayed her. The next day, however, the mysterious Margo is nowhere to be found. With help from a few buddies and some cryptic clues that she left behind, Quentin embarks on an obsessive mission to find the girl who stole his heart and made him feel truly alive.
The trailer and the synopsis do not do the movie justice. First of all, this movie is not a boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-girl story. It is not primarily a romance, nor is it about Margo Roth Spiegelman. It is first and foremost a movie about friends and about growing up, not just growing older, and about seeing people accurately, not how you want to see them. The three friends, Q, Radar, and Ben have grown up together. As graduation nears and they each plan to go off to their respective colleges they know there is a good chance they will never all be together again. Margo is the catalyst that sets them and two girls off on one last great adventure – an interstate manhunt for Margo Roth Spiegelman. Road-tripping up the east coast from Florida to New York brings them together and deepens their friendship in ways they had never experienced. In the end Quentin learns a painful lesson, but takes the good with bad, and learns for the first time in his life what really matters – the relationships he has now.
This past summer I read The Beginning of Everything, a YA novel that struck a chord with me because I’d never seen a YA story with such an excellent message: grow up, get over your childish foolishness, and become an adult, even if your friends and those closest to you will not. I enjoyed the main character’s last great adventure, and the journey to the end of high school (high school both as an attitude and a time of life). And ever since I read that book, I’ve wished it was a movie. Well, little did I know, but The Beginning of Everything, as excellent as it is in its own right, draws heavily from Paper Towns. From the female character that draws the main character into a series of adventures, to the message that you must grow up, live your life right, and value those that are in your life now to the warnings about the danger of idealizing human beings. The film Paper Towns was my Beginning of Everything. I’ll have to read the novel before I can accurately compare them, but as things stand now, they’re both different and the same.
That said, it is not a family film. The language wasn’t too horrible – there were two or three strong profanities in a two-hour film. But there is quite a bit of innuendo throughout. Sexual jokes, comments about “waiting for prom” to “do it,” and then afterward admitting it has been “done.” And perhaps worst of all, one of Margo’s pranks ends with a teenager fleeing a house totally naked, showing just about everything. The nudity I could’ve done without, and the scene could’ve been just as effective without going so far. Points off for the nudity. The most I can say about that particular part is you can see it coming, so just hit fast-forward if you’re like me and don’t appreciate that stuff.
It was well acted – the friends all made me laugh out loud at points. They were each different and unique in their own right. And the adventures they go through very much held my attention. I tend to not enjoy high school movies, but this one had enough going for it that I look forward to watching it again. I’ve had both soundtracks (the score and the vocal songs) running non-stop since I finished the movie, and I’m very much looking forward to the book.
Mr. Green, you have earned a bit of my trust. But still, just because I really, really did not like TFIOS…