If you want to know a bit more about how the Paper Towns movie differs from the book, then I’ve got the details for you here. NOTE: This blog will most definitely contain many spoilers. You’ve been warned…
When I was originally writing my review of the Paper Towns movie, I went a bit overboard, so I decided to split some of the review off. This section goes into more detail about how the movie compares to the book.
The film starts off really promisingly. The prologue is perfectly captured with Lil’ Margo and Lil’ Q on their bikes. This quickly flows into revenge night, or “the longest day of [Q’s] life” as he described it in the book, and here’s where we start to see all the big changes. I totally understand why they had to streamline this section, and some of it was definitely for the best, but it would be lovely to just take a few extra minutes to revel in the craziness of what Margo & Q are undertaking. It all just flies by so fast, you never get to appreciate what’s going on and the fun they’re having.
The next section is the investigation and mystery section where, in the book, Q learnt the majority of this story’s morals. Not so in this film. This section is totally rushed with all meaning and exploration of concepts thrown out the window. Of course they couldn’t keep everything, otherwise the movie would have gone on for days. Some of the changes they’ve made to condense this section are quite clever, although they come at the cost of mystery and tension. But there’s no way I can forgive the fact that they’ve remove all of the substance of the book by light-heartedly skimming through this phase of the story. All of the more confronting elements have been removed to present a fanciful coming-of-age/end-of-high-school story. Q hardly spends any time alone. He never investigates any paper towns or unbuilt subdivisions, and there’s definitely no talk of suicide. There’s next to no discussion of Walt Whitman, and I think that’s why there’s so little depth. Most of the ideas of Paper Towns grow out of Q’s reflections on his experiences and readings of Whitman’s poems. By culling the seemingly endless flow of Whitman analysis, they’ve nipped the concepts of the book in the bud. Now, Q doesn’t spend this time thinking about who Margo actually is, and how his whole outlook on the world has been wrong all this time. He spends it psyching himself up into believing he’s in love with Margo, thanks to the encouragement of his friends.
Before we know it, we find ourselves in the final stretches of this movie: the road-trip. Although it’s greatly reduced from its appearance in the book. While the key events are still there, they’ve been changed a bit, and the journey is truncated through “travelling by map”. Only one pit-stop is shown, but you get the idea. The biggest change here is after the car spins out, the gang decide to camp out for the night, and wait for a mechanic to check it over. This allows some time for things that would have happened in the book at other places to happen now, as well as a heart-to-heart coming-of-age discussion between the boys. And that discussion really forms the crux of the “message” of this story, unfortunately.
Extra Spoiler Warning: The ending is very different to the book, so only read the next paragraph if you REALLY want it spoiled….
So, when they finally get to Agloe, Margo’s nowhere to be found. They wait a while, but Q’s friends all get impatient and decide they want to leave. He tells them to just rack off without him, and take his car. He then sits around, waiting and hoping for a few hours or so, and then gets a lift into the town of Roscoe. As he’s buying a bus ticket, he sees Margo out the window and runs up to her. They go grab a milkshake, and Margo explains that Q can’t be in love with her because she doesn’t know who she is. She ties up some of the loose ends about herself, but not nearly as many as in the book, and finally gives us just the tiniest nugget of “people aren’t who or what you imagine them to be”. It’s a much more placid, appeasing conversation than what happened in the book, and this again comes down to the fact that Q hasn’t had any of these thoughts before. All of the ideas she is laying out in front of him are new. Q has a little coming-of-age moment where he realises this has been the time of his life, and he jumps on the bus, somehow in time to get to prom because this couldn’t be a coming-of-age movie if it didn’t end with a bunch of teenagers dancing their socks off. Although I have to say, in that moment, watching Nat Wolff dance one of the dorkiest dances you have ever seen, I related to Q more than ever before. The movie polishes off with a few platitudes about life and friendship, and that’s it. The End.
Like I said, this film was quite different from the original book. Even though the general plot was the same, lots of points along that plot have been changed. Below are two lists of, in my view, some of the more significant changes (in semi-chronological order):
The Good/Neutral Changes
- All of the chatting in the car with Margo painting her nails has been trimmed and scattered across the whole revenge evening.
- I didn’t even notice at first that instead of smashing a catfish in Lacey’s car, they cling-wrap the whole thing. It’s a much more fitting punishment, seeing as Lacey manages to forgive Margo.
- The assault on Jase’s house, which was pretty unnecessary as it was, has been cut.
- They never get to SeaWorld, but it’s still referenced, and the dancing is moved to the top of the SunCorp building, which works well as a replacement.
- Side plots, like the destruction of the freshmen’s bikes never happen.
- Q never tells any adult about what happened with Margo that night.
- The party’s at Jase’s house instead of Becca’s.
- Angela comes on the final road trip, which so should have happened in the book.
- The topic of conversation when Q nearly hits the cow is Moby Dick, instead of about the difference between imagining someone and knowing them. This is mainly due to the fact that there is no discussion of this topic anywhere in the movie, even though it’s the whole point of the book.
- Also, the “great white wall of cow” is missing. It’s just the one, spotted cow.
- There is no graduation, with or without nudity.
The Bad Changes
- One tiny omission that really annoyed me was the fact that when Chuck Parson wakes up in the midst of having his eyebrow removed, he doesn’t scream out for his Mommy. I thought it was a really great touch in the book, because it served to show that Chuck wasn’t truly as tough as he seems.
- Chuck Parson decides to roll with one eyebrow for the rest of the movie. He is seen on a few occasions after revenge night and he never makes the decision to “shave off Lefty, or paint on Righty” (or vice versa as the movie has him lose Lefty instead of Righty). I get that it’s funny to see someone with one eyebrow, but it was totally unrealistic that someone would just go along with only one eyebrow like that.
- The party is separated from the prom, which now occurs at the end of the movie, because it’s Hollywood and they can’t let a teenager miss out on a prom, even if they really don’t want to go.
- Although it is shown in the trailer, Q is never gifted a minivan.
- Q sleeps in the abandoned mall for no reason; he never finds anything of Margo’s there.
- Angela may come on the road trip, but Radar doesn’t invite her to the party.
- While Becca & Jase are seen getting it on in her house, Jase isn’t heard calling out Margo’s name.
- When Q realises how to find Margo, he drags Ben, Radar & Lacey (well, actually she secretly follows them) directly from the party out to the abandoned mall.
- When they find the map full of pinholes and pin it up on the wall, they instantly just know which pin Margo is currently near. They don’t even consider any of the others.
- When Rader looks up Agloe on Omnictionary, they see the message from Margo, but there’s no mention on when she’s leaving. Q just intuitively knows she’s still there.
- Without a time constraint set by Margo, the movie imposes an arbitrary one of wanting to find Margo before prom, which is 2 days away. Not only that, Radar demands they get back with at least 12hrs to spare. If you do some mental maths, you see that the timeline just works out, but the reasoning behind having to “Go! Now!” just isn’t as strong. They had time to go pick up Angela, so there’s no reason they couldn’t go home, pick up supplies and get changed, rather than the mad pit-stops.
As I left the cinema, I had the most irritatingly mixed feelings. As uplifting and positive and joyous as that movie was, it just wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted something deep, and hard-hitting. Full of mystery, tension and self-discovery. I wanted a movie as nuanced as the book. Instead I got a bag of platitudes.
Because I went to an advanced screening, they also showed an exclusive Q&A with John Green and Nat Wolff after the movie. Unfortunately, it was also quite disappointing. Here’s a paraphrased summary:
Q: Hey John, where do you get your inspiration?
John: Well, a lot of it comes indirectly from my own experience, but also other people such as readers who write to me.
Q: Hey John, are any of your books based on your own experiences?
John: Ah, yes. But I try not to make everything exactly autobiographical. I really just use it as a base on which to tell stories that I think can help us all understand the world and others better.
Q: Hey John, aren’t you so happy that all your books are super-popular and getting turned into movies and stuff?
John: Yeah, I guess. I’m just really lucky …
Q: Hey John, …
John: Hey! Don’t you think it’s time you asked Nat some questions.
Q: Okay. Hey Nat, tell us your favourite book of John’s.
Nat: It’s gotta be Paper Towns.
Q: Hey John, what was your inspiration for Paper Towns?
Okay, so some liberties may have been taken in my summary, but have a listen here and you’ll here it’s pretty accurate. Watching it was sort of awkward. You could clearly see that John was a bit uncomfortable with all the repetitive questions and there were shots there where Nat looked quite bored. On second thought, you’re probably better off watching some of John’s vlogs from on set. There much more enjoyable.
If you loved Paper Towns for the wacky plot alone, and thought all that deep stuff was too full-on, then you will undoubtedly love this movie. If you loved Paper Towns for its rich, thought-provoking journey of self-discovery and self-awareness, you will probably be left wanting by this movie. If you loved the “love story”, then you’ll be totally enraptured by this movie. There are definitely things to enjoy about it, but it’s just not the story you’re looking for. If they ever release a 4hr cut, I’ll be the first in line to see it, because that could be a really good movie.
Have you seen Paper Towns? Have you read the book? What did you think of each? Did the film live up to your expectations? Has it changed your view of the world? Have I said anything you disagree with? Also, what do you think of me splitting this review in two? Was it a good or bad idea? Tell me & everyone else who passes through here what you think in the comment below.