I’ve aged myself many times when writing, but to do it again, I’ll tell you that I grew up with the teenage movies of the John Hughes era. Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off were (and still are) classics of my generation. They spoke to me at an impressionable age when my friends and I didn’t think anyone understood us.
This was a one-time alignment that can never be duplicated in a lifetime. I’ve watched many teenage movies over the years since then and, while some are enjoyable enough, I could never quite relate to the characters and events. Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to watch Paper Towns and discover it to be the closest thing I’ve seen in message and tone to a John Hughes classic.
That means the main character, 18-year old Quentin (Nat Wolff), reminded me of myself at that age and his friends, Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith), reminded me of my band friends in high school. The quest they make for the main part of the movie was not familiar; however, it would not have been for Ben, either, if not for the inspiration of childhood sweetheart, Margo (Cara Delevinge).
So wish fulfillment comes into play here. It made me a little melancholy to think I never had a similar adventure; or, perhaps ever more sad, I never had the inspiration for one. The ending of Paper Towns was also melancholy for me. Looking back on it, though, it was the perfect ending. That’s because it was honest and it was true. In a roundabout way, it really was the happiest of endings.
It turns out the movie isn’t really a romantic comedy-drama-mystery about Ben trying to locate the missing Margo through a series of clues she leaves strewn about town. While he has only the end in sight, he should instead be paying attention to the journey along the way. This may be Margo’s intent all along, but Ben doesn’t realize that… until it’s too late?
Or is Margo so completely selfish that she has no ulterior motive when she disappears following a night with Ben when she exacts her unique style of revenge upon her cheating boyfriend, the girl with whom he cheated and her best friend who supposedly knew about the situation and didn’t tell her? Whichever it is, Margo is a force of nature who, intended or not, demands attention.
Although ably directed by Jake Schreier, the “voice” of Paper Towns likely comes from writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. They collaborated on other better-than-average teenage movies like (500) Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars. However, the movie is based on the novel of the same name by author John Green, who also wrote The Fault in Our Stars.
All three writers were born in the late 1970s, so their ages now fall somewhere between my teenage late-Boomer years and today’s Millennials’. Perhaps that’s why Paper Towns is relevant to both generations. I’d have to ask a Millennial if that’s true, but I’m fairly certain both groups will find the movie to be engaging, funny, sad, sweet and, just like life as a teenager, sometimes a little silly.