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Catholic Movie Reviews: Paper Towns


MPAA Rating

Life Teen Rating

Is It Cool?: Excellence in Filmmaking

Paper Towns, written by the awesome John Green, is the story of Quentin (Q, as Margo likes to call him) and his romantic obsession with the enigmatic Margo. He tells us early in the story that every person gets a miracle. We are then left to believe that Margo is his. She moves into the house across the street from Q and one night, knocks on his bedroom window because she needs him to drive her around town to act out various acts of revenge on her ex-boyfriend. Shortly thereafter, she disappears. Her parents don’t seem hugely concerned though because apparently she disappears quite often on grand and dangerous adventures. Q is convinced she has left him a series of clues to follow and that she is waiting for him in a little town in New York. Because he is certain they are meant to be together (based primarily on the fact that he thinks they are the only two teens to think deeply about things and to find the world shallow), he and his two buddies make the road trip to find her.

This movie feels unfinished.

I’m struggling to articulate exactly what the problem is, overall, with the film, but perhaps we could start here. The casting didn’t work for me at all.

Our lead is supposed to be the stereotypical “lovable loser” kind of character. The problem is that Nat Wolff (The Fault in Our Stars) borders pretty strongly into “romantic heartthrob land.” He acts his role pretty well, though, and the tone of his “nerdiness” is rescued somewhat with the interactions his character has with his two teen dude friends. However, the role of Margo? Oh, boy. Margo as a character is supposed to be this enigmatic, alluring siren whose mysterious and adventurous life draws you to her like a magnet. Cara Delevigne (um… she was in a Taylor Swift video and is a fashion model) was cast in this role and I have absolutely no idea what the justification might have been for that choice. She’s a stunningly beautiful young woman, true, but at this point in her career, I don’t know that she should be listing “actress” on her resume with a straight face. It’s possible that maybe this just wasn’t a great vehicle for her, I suppose.

Beyond the odd casting, I was pretty disappointed in the photography and design choices for the settings. In the story, we start out in fake, plastic, touristy Florida and then road trip to cold, stark Upstate New York. For a buddy road trip movie with this type of extreme journey from place to place, we sure don’t see much. In keeping with the theme of feeling unfinished, there are some moments that had genuine promise to be something great. For example, there is a scene in this abandoned shopping center that could have been something really beautiful and full of metaphor… but it wasn’t.

I’m not entirely certain what exactly Director Jake Schreier (Robot & Frank) was going for with tone. It’s sort of like the whole movie was a cross between “tropey angsty teenagers being edgy” and “we’re not really in a hurry to do anything interesting with this story.” The slow pacing never achieves any kind of sense of urgency and the sound track is heavy-handed with its emo ballads.

As a very big John Green fan and as someone who thoroughly loved The Fault in Our Stars, I was let down by Paper Towns.

What’s it Saying?: Message of the Movie

I’m giving a cautious thumbs up for the message because I think it illustrates something important. In our current cultural climate, we seem to be very keen to glorify the “exceptional” people. In Q’s mind, there is no one more exceptional than the mysterious Margo. Quentin gets to learn the lesson that being irresponsible and running away because you feel like it doesn’t make you edgy and mysterious, though. It makes you absent and flat, like a paper person.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Morality in the Movie

There are several inappropriate moments including depictions of underage drinking, irresponsible behavior, sexual innuendos, a couple who are only partially dressed and making out, a guy almost totally naked, etc.

That's Right. I Said It: Reviewer Comments

She just goes off on these extreme adventures whenever she feels like it and her parents are cool? “Oh, that’s just Margo. She must have gotten bored.” Um, no. That kid is grounded, ma’am and sir. Honestly. What kind of parents are these?? And actually, where are ALL of the parents of these kids?

I… feel like maybe I’m not seeing the genius of casting Cara D. Is it just me? Like, are other people watching her right now thinking she’s brilliant? No. It’s not just me. It can’t be.

So, the title “paper towns” comes from the idea that a town might only be a name on a map and not a real place at all. It only exists on paper. I sort of feel like this book should be like a paper town and only exist on paper.

About the Author

Jessica Salmans
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