Paper Towns glorifies questions over answers
John Green sets his wildly successful novels around life transition in the lives of young adults. He taps into this disproportionate drama better than any other modern writer targeting that audience. His formula is simple, but he follows it with laser precision. Basically, he is the Nicholas Sparks of YA.
Paper Towns is made for Green fans in a way even last year’s The Fault In Our Stars was not. The stars are not well known. The plot rambles. It is both a road trip movie and a movie that culminates in a prom. It’s also a movie about growing up and first love, best friends and girlfriends. It takes place on the cusp of graduation from high school, providing a tension that allows for confusion and choices that might seem out of character, except that the whole point is these characters are trying to figure out “who” they are. The story is not based in the reality of becoming an adult. It’s an attempt to externalize the internal experience of growing up, falling in love, and learning the risks and rewards of pursuing passions.
But the plot itself is a simple story of a boy, Quentin (Nat Wolff), who loves (or thinks he loves) the girl next door, Margo (Cara Delevingne), and pursues her from Florida to New York. At one point, Quentin even compares his pursuit of Margo to Moby Dick. It’s a nod to the single-mindedness of teenagers that Quentin doesn’t realize his pursuit is as reckless and doomed as Captain Ahab’s. Fortunately for him, the journey doesn’t end as tragically. The movie’s tone swings from comedy to melodrama but overall applies a light touch appropriate to such a flimsy story.
The moral of the story, as in many such teenage tales, is that growing up only happens through experiential living. “Everybody else was doing things for the last time, but I was doing them for the first,” Quentin narrates. In other words: Pursuit, not success, is the goal. Just try stuff and let the consequences fall out how they will. (The sidekick characters already seem to understand this and therefore provide comic relief to the story.)
Identity questions are not new to the John Green generation. But there is something unusual about the fact that by the end of Paper Towns, Quentin is no closer to knowing himself. He is just better at asking questions.
Paper Towns is rated PG-13 for some language, drinking, sexuality and partial nudity (male posterior), all involving teens.
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