‘Paper Towns’ Review: More than just a love story
At first glance, Jake Schreier’s Paper Towns seems to tread the same path as Josh Boone’s The Fault in Our Stars (2014), which for all its earnestness remained nothing more than a romance whose nifty emotional manipulations distracted viewers from how maddeningly generic it really was. Schreier’s film has a lot more than romance to offer. There is actually a soul underneath all its mush and indulgences.
Paper Towns starts with the standard narration, a quick overview of another romance that fate has set-up for the film’s relatable protagonist Q (Nat Wolff), a senior high school student who has never done a wrong thing in his entire life. Q has been in love with his next door neighbor Margo (Cara Delevingne) since he was a kid. However, they drifted apart while growing up.
Q ends up as a nobody in school, hanging out with fellow nobodies Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith) in the band room. Margo, with her confidence and knack for adventure, becomes one of the cooler kids in school, dating varsity jocks and getting invited to all sorts of parties. One night, Margo finds herself in Q’s room, inviting him to be her accomplice in her wave of dastardly acts of vengeance.
Love and friendship
Paper Towns seems too focused on the romance, spending a lot of time with Q’s indefatigable fascination with Margo. Interestingly, the romance is but a veil to the ode to childhood friendship that the film feels like it really is. It is a clever strategy, one that lures the audience in with the promise of a love story between an ugly duckling and his princess but ends up dishing out something better, something more grounded on shared experiences rather than vicariously enjoyed fantasies.
The film’s a coming-of-age tale by way of a giddy love story. Green's tale owes a lot to narrative contrivances. The film’s story of two lovers bound by a puzzle that will have one racing from Florida to upstate New York feels too extravagant for comfort.
However, it is that exact conceit that is required by the coming-of-age facet of Paper Towns to work. It needs an adventure, a mystery to up the ante and push its band of virginal brothers out of their comfort zones and into that thing called life. Schreier more or less sucessfully balances the film’s two thrusts carefully, never really dwelling on the love story to overpower the tale about friendship, and never really focusing too intently on the buddies’ relationship to upstage Q’s amorous whims.
Beauty and the best friends
Clearly, Paper Towns is most enjoyable when it dwells in the frustrations and aspirations of Q and his gang. Wolff, Abrams and Smith play the part of the school’s invisible troupe of nerds with veritable ease. They never make it seem that they are suffering through the school system’s obnoxious power play, but they also give off just the important vibe of the underdog, enough for the audience to root for them and their frivolous fantasies.
They are an adorable bunch, and scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber are smart enough to avoid downplaying the mechanics of their peculiar friendship, which is the beating heart of the film. In the midst of the great romance that is brewing inside the head of Q, it is the group’s mystery-turned-road flick, reminiscent of a Hardy Boys episode had the Hardy Boys been written for female teenagers instead of prepubescent boys, that breezily carries the film.
Amiable and cheerful
There is enough charm in the film to forgive the fact that its characterization of Margo is a bit off-tangent, more a teenage fantasy rather than a living, breathing and feeling creature to understand and root for. That’s completely understandable. She is nothing more than a pin in the map of growing child’s journey to adulthood.
Paper Towns is amiable and cheerful. Its humor is integral to the emotions it is gunning for, which is predominantly the bittersweet feeling of leaving one’s carefree teenage days for the disappointments of adulthood, of outgrowing friendships, of abandoning the quests and adventures that should have marked our childhood. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema. Profile photo by Fatcat Studios