Paper Towns dismantles the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” trope by stopping anyone from caring in the first place. Nat Wolff’s Quentin has his life flipped around when he’s spontaneously taken on a night of pranks by his estranged childhood friend Margo, played by perpetual next big thing and/or world’s most bankable eyebrows Cara Delevingne. Margo is the very model of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, leaving cute notes with rAndoM capItALisaTion, and zero awareness of how insufferable that is.
Annoyingly, she’s also the most compelling part of the film, and spends most of it being some absent ideal to be tracked down. We’re left with Quentin, and two of the most stock friends to be seen outside of parody, one of whom is a huge misfire at a vulgar Stifler-esque jokester who falls flat with every line.
With her clues and trails, you realise the entire story operates on Margo’s terms, which would be fine if she wasn’t a tyrannical twee goddess. John Green, author of the original young adult novel, was clearly attempting a bait and switch, with the movie questioning what happens when the manic pixie dream girl just isn’t as manic as we wanted her to be. The ending is well-intentioned, but the journey to it is long and devoid of humour or chemistry. It’s missing that nostalgic haze of movies like Say Anything or 10 Things I Hate About You, and bizarrely forgoes its own timeless story to laser-focus on a millennial consciousness, as epitomised by when the movie literally stops mid-story to let the characters sing the Pokemon theme tune… all the way through.
Papertowns | Directed by Jake Schreier (USA 2015) with Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne. Starts July 30.