Movie Review: “Paper Towns” – Lost in Translation

Written by Matt Butler July 31, 2015


It’s a huge relief to review a movie that’s based on a book you’ve already read. It’s like that one less book you have to read for class, that extra five hours you can spend actually studying, or not. Although the experience may lace your mind with spoilers, it makes it all the easier to judge the film as a film. It also helps when the adapted material is written by one of your favourite authors.

“Paper Towns”, directed by Jake Schreier (Robot & Frank), tells the plight of Quentin (Nat Wolff), a high school senior, who is hopelessly in love with the rebellious and elusive Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne). When Margo vanishes, much to her parents’ indifference, Quentin pushes himself to find any traces that will lead him to her. When he finds she’s left him a series of clues -a trail of breadcrumbs, if you will- the chase is on to find Margo and confess his love to her, before she falls completely off the grid.

“She loved mysteries so much that she became one.”

I’ll be perfectly honest, I’m not a big fan of the book. Yes, it makes some profound points on identity, but the characters, conflict, and mystery aren’t nearly interesting enough to get me invested in the story. The film shares this problem. Now, all you nerdfighters (John Green/VlogBrothers fans) out there may look at this as a sign that the film doesn’t stray far from the book, and that I’m just a stubborn cynic who doesn’t know anything. While you may be right, consider what the film may be like for anyone who hasn’t read the book, maybe someone unfamiliar with John Green altogether. My guess is, they’d be pretty lost. The film takes so many detours and skips so many essential subtleties -which culminate in the book’s central themes- that at the end of it, you need to be reminded what it’s all really about, and the lesson learned just feels pinned on.


Still, there’s some decent entertainment scattered throughout. The film really takes off when the trio of Quentin, Ben (Austin Abrams), and Radar (Justice Smith) set off on their road trip. It’s these three that truly bring the energy to the film, especially Ben, with his refreshingly juvenile humour thrown into the mix. It reminds us that despite their awkward overtly intellectual, pseudo-hipster quips, these kids are still kids. What makes the film worth seeing are the out-of-nowhere offbeats of humour, some that I dare not spoil, as even readers won’t and shouldn’t see them coming.


For all of you diehards fussing over Cara Delevingne being cast as Margo, let me assure you, she is perfectly okay in this movie. Nothing awful, but nothing awesome either, she just fits the part, what else do you want? What really frustrated me though was the personality of Quentin, who quite frankly seems to be channeling a closed-lipped Kristen Stewart throughout 90% of the movie. I don’t think it’s anything to do with Nat Wolff, but the character as written in the book. He lacks the emotional drive necessary for us to get pulled into his obsession with Margo. Yes, he talks about it, but its rarely felt on screen the intensity that pushes him to seek her out.

“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”

Despite all of this, “Paper Towns” is nothing terrible, but it’s also nothing spectacular, it’s just painfully average, which is a huge disservice to such a unique and insightful writer as John Green. Its biggest issue is a lack of emotional investment, which, considering the visceral power of “The Fault in Our Stars”, is likely what a lot of people, myself included, were expecting. The benefit with TFIOS is it has an immediately relatable emotional conflict: the inevitability of death. Paper Towns has to work harder to gain our emotional connection with Quentin’s quest because it is his and his alone, but the lack of emotional expression in our lead character makes finding her a less compelling endeavour. All in all, “Paper Towns” has its moments, but it’s a story that was probably best left on paper.

My Rating: 6/10


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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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