When the film adaption of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars went from thickly bound pages to the glowing awe of the big screen in 2014, teenage girls everywhere swooned and sighed as, “Okay,” took on a whole new meaning. Green’s other novel-adapted movie Paper Towns didn’t receive quite as much anticipatory swooning, but also doesn’t require quite as much emotional investment — and that’s okay.
Paper Towns stars Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne as a boy in love, and the girl who steals his heart, respectively. However, this is not so much a love story as it is the story of being young, of being innocent, of making the most of the moments of youth you have left before you stumble your way into noncommittal adulthood. And it’s good, it really is.
The film starts off with a one-night adventure that in many other movies, could have been the entire plot of the film (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Superbad, Adventures in Babysitting, and so on and so forth). However, this one crazy night takes only about 20 minutes of the movie, using enough time to set up the relationship between Margo Roth Spiegelman and Quentin, “Q,” and serving as a jumping off point for the rest of the film’s plot. After their night on the town, Margo disappears, leaving behind a series of clues that Q must follow in order to find her. Q teams up with his buddies Radar and Ben, as well as Margo’s friend Lacey, to follow this trail of breadcrumbs and find the ultimate prize: Q’s one true love. As the group of friends works to sort out the pieces of the puzzle, they take new steps to go beyond their comfort zones. Suddenly, it is no longer a story of one boy and one girl, but the story of a group of people as they embark on one last adventure before starting out into the world unknown (this is, after all, their senior year, and no one knows what the future may bring).
So what is a “paper town,” you might ask? When cartographers used to draw maps, they would name and place fictional towns, towns with no populations or landmarks, towns with names that only the mapmaker would recognize. This way, if someone were to copy their map, they would be able to point to their false town and claim ownership of it, stopping anyone from stealing the map of another. In the context of Paper Towns, this sentiment in poignant — while you can try to live your life according to someone else’s map, there will always be a time on which you stumble across a falsity — something that does not align with your own self, your own beliefs, your own journey. For Q, his map leads him to a love story that is more fiction than fact, but teaches him the importance of extending beyond one’s boundaries and declaring a place in new territories. For his friends, too, there are lessons to be learned about following a map that is not true to your own path, and at the film’s end, there is not much to be said of a love story, but a lot to be said for a story of finding oneself.
An excellent soundtrack and beautiful cinematography make Paper Towns one of the more enjoyable films I’ve watched this year. Though not an emotionally tolling affair, it has a clear vision and relays a memorable story of not letting others set expectations for you, but also not setting unrealistic expectations for yourself. At the end of Paper Towns, you do not feel drained. You may not feel changed, or inspired, or moved either. But, if you let yourself enjoy its simplicity and you don’t expect too much from it, you may just sigh a happy sigh, grin just a little, and through your reluctant smile, whisper, “okay.”