Review of Paper Towns

The movie Paper Towns, like the book Paper Towns (by John Green), is geared toward the teenage market. This review is about the movie, of course, but from what I’ve read online, the book is just as interesting and I may eventually get a copy. The name of the movie comes from the practice that cartographers use to prevent copyright infringement—adding fake towns to a map so that anyone copying it will likely copy the fake town as well (making it easy to prove copyright infringement in court). The term can also refer to planned subdivisions that fail to materialize for various reasons. The idea is one of being completely fake.

The reason the movie is so interesting is that it asks a particular question that few movies bother to ask, “Who am I?” It seems like an obvious question, but many people never ask the question once in their entire lives. They seem to fly through life on autopilot and never quite realize the amazing potential they have. After Margo’s (Cara Delevingne) boyfriend proves untrue to her (and she takes the requisite revenge) she’s faced with the overwhelming sense of being fake—of being made of paper, just like the paper town she inhabits with all the other paper people who go about their daily lives never questioning anything. I’m focusing on this particular point because it’s all too easy to miss in the movie.

It’s important to remember that this is a teen movie, so it contains the splash of nudity and overwhelming concentration of drinking that these movies tend to contain. The message is lost a little because of the emphasis on teen activities that seem like both a waste of time, but also a necessary passage to adulthood. I wouldn’t say that the amount of near nudity and drinking is absurd, but it does get in the way of an otherwise meaningful movie. I think they could have easily toned things down a little and produced an even better movie as a result.

The movie does seem to avoid drugs (at least from what I could tell) and the amount of foul language is kept to a real minimum. I applaud both choices as being in good taste. If the movie had gone down this road to any significant degree, I probably couldn’t recommend it, despite being a great movie otherwise.

Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a movie if it focused on one girl’s realization that she’s going nowhere quite fast and needs to do something about it. As usual, the synopsis for the movie is misleading and the trailer is even worse. Quentin (Nat Wolff) has a major role to play, but it isn’t as Margo’s sidekick. Like Margo, Quentin is stuck in a rut and needs to ask what makes one happy in life. Again, it’s a really important question because everyone knows someone who totally abhors their occupation, lives with a spouse they detest for the kid’s sake, and generally has a really rotten life. Here is a kid who is starting to head down that road, but is intercepted by Margo who gets him to think again. The movie makes the point that life is to be enjoyed, that work really shouldn’t be, and that relationships should be fun.

Most teen movies I’ve seen are truly mind candy and not very good mind candy at that. This movie could easily fall into the mind candy category too if it didn’t ask those important life questions. It really does have something of value to offer the discerning audience. For everyone else, well, there is the semi-nudity and drunken parties to enjoy. If you haven’t seen Paper Towns and would like something to think about for a while, you really do need to see it and be prepared to watch with your mind open and your creativity in gear.  I highly recommend it.