I have been slack this year. I have only read ten books, and aside from Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, I haven’t read s single one that I actually liked. Just a couple of days ago, I finished reading Paper Towns, by John Green, and I have to say I was rather unimpressed with it. Having read Looking for Alaska not that long ago, I was dismayed to find a slightly more boring version of the same story. Boy loves purposely enigmatic girl, love is unrequited, something happens to the girl that requires the boy to solve some mystery about her, and they don’t end up together. That’s literally it.
I went to see the film adaptation of Paper Towns last night, as part of a charity event raising awareness for mitochondrial disease. After reading the book, (which I hadn’t finished at the time I purchased the ticket) I was less than enthused about the prospect of sitting through the film, but there was pizza and I’m not one to turn down pizza. So I went, and decided to give the film the benefit of the doubt. As it turned out, I liked the film a little more than the book, but it’s still not one I’ll be in any hurry to watch again.
The story revolves around Quentin ‘Q’ Jacobsen (played by Nat Wolff, an actor you might recognise from yet another John Green adaptation, The Fault in our Stars), a young man on the cusp of adulthood, who has a nearly life long obsession with the stereotypical girl next door, Margo Roth Spiegelman (played by Cara Delevingne). There were a lot of parallels between this, and John Green’s other works. Margo, like the title character in Looking for Alaska, is essentially nothing more than a spoiled child who revels in her own mystery. Q, like Miles, is the under appreciated, decidedly convenient, sort-of-but-not-really friend smitten with the girl. Both stories are told from the male perspective, and neither one is particularly entertaining.
Margo is difficult to like. She finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her with her best friend, and yeah, that would suck. But she goes on a huge revenge mission and then leaves Q to deal with the aftermath. Her actions are petty, and only result in making her look more like the child she is so desperate to prove that she’s not. She forces Q into helping her, because she thinks it’s her job to make him more bold, more like the kind of person she would like. I feel like it’s a pretty negative message to be sending people this story is aimed at; do things you’re not necessarily comfortable with, to please people that are only going to use you up and leave. Nice one, John.
The film adaptation of Paper Towns was differed from the book, in that it actually had more of a focus on the friendship between Q and his best friends, Ben and Radar. Though Q’s obsession with the ultimately unlikeable Margo is obviously a major focal point of the film, and I still found myself wanting to slap him upside the head, Ben and Radar (played by Austin Abrams and Justice Smith respectively) are fun enough that they almost single handedly (double handedly?) carry the entire film. Of particular note is the scene in which a drunken Ben, to alleviate his own fear of being in a creepy building, sings the Pokemon song aloud, until the three friends are belting it out together.
Margo’s portrayal in the film is admittedly more likeable than in the book. In the book, when they finally catch up to her at the end, she is rude, nasty and unappreciative. In the film, she at least deigns to apologise to Q for sending him on what was essentially a wild goose chase. But still, I found it difficult to relate to any of the characters in the book/film, and couldn’t understand Q’s infatuation with Margo.
Out of five, the film gets a 2.5 and the book, only a 2. That extra .5 for the film comes entirely from the fact that the plot was fast tracked and the message was more about friendship. If you’re a John Green fan, by all means go to see it, but otherwise I’m not sure I’d bother.