For Nerdfighters everywhere, the countdown commences. Paper Towns, the second film adaptation inspired by a John Green novel (following The Fault in Our Stars) will hit movie theaters on July 24. The story, a coming-of-age mystery and romance with themes of misperception and authenticity, centers on high school seniors and neighbors Quentin Jacobsen and Margo Roth Spiegelman, who live in a Florida subdivision. Having always had a crush on Margo, Quentin willingly accompanies her on an all-night adventure, spent avenging the peers who Margo feels have wronged her. After that, Margo disappears and Quentin and friends take a road trip to try to locate her.
The movie is directed by Jake Schreier and stars Cara Delevingne as Margo, Nat Wolff as Quentin, and Halston Sage as Margo’s friend Lacey. Michael H. Weber wrote the screenplay. Green’s books, which tend to focus on intellectually curious, psychologically complex teenagers, have not only garnered enormous popularity, but John Green himself has earned the sort of celebrity status that might once have been reserved for actors or pop stars. The 2014 film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars has grossed more than $120 million domestically and has built up a lot of pent-up demand for the next movie based on a John Green book.
Though fan expectations may arguably be less fervent than they were for The Fault in Our Stars – a more romantic and outwardly tragic story – legions of fans are counting on the movie to do justice to the book. Ironically, it’s something that fans might have had to worry about more, had a Paper Towns movie been made a few years ago, when Mandate Pictures held the rights. Green himself was in charge of writing the screenplay, but the project did not go forward. On Green’s website, he wrote: “I worked hard on the script for much of 2009, but in the end Mandate didn’t feel they had the kind of screenplay they could shoot. So it goes.”
Green recently discussed his script with the Huffington Post, saying that “it was very, very different from the book, and I think fans would not have liked it.” He shared that one of the significant ways that his script strayed from the novel was that Quentin gets together with Lacey by the end – something that many readers may have very well have objected to, even if it was written by Green.
‘Paper Towns’ at BookCon
Green spoke about the movie adaptation at BookCon on May 30, where he shared the stage with cast members Nat Wolff and Justice Smith, director Jake Schreier, screenplay writer Michael H. Weber, and composer Ryan Lott of Son Lux. Green compared being on set for the adaptations of The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns, saying that the latter was a much lighter experience, with more laughter than tears.
The panelists discussed one of the major themes of Paper Towns, the idea of putting someone on a pedestal as Quentin does with Margo: “We do girls a disservice by putting them on a pedestal and romanticizing them,” Green said. He noted how powerfully Delevingne embodied Margo’s character and how the actress understood that Margo refuses to play into Quentin’s idealization of her – perhaps because the model and actress herself understands what it’s like to be viewed in this way. Green also commented about the relationship that evolves between Margo and Quentin and the question of romance: “I don’t think romantic love is the only love that has value,” he said.
Green and Wolff also discussed differences between the book and movie, with Green noting that he doesn’t feel that he has to maintain “ownership” over a book when it comes to adapting it. What matters most to Green is maintaining themes that are central to the story in a film adaptation; he knows that certain adjustments often have to be made to a story in order to ensure its success on screen. Weber spoke about the challenges of deciding what to include in the screenplay and what to leave out, saying: “We made some strategic changes. It’s a balancing act and a process. It keeps evolving and keeps getting better.”
One scene that was cut from the film early in the process was the one in which Margo and Quentin break into SeaWorld. This was due to the recent controversy surrounding SeaWorld, as exposed in the documentary BlackFish.
And in more recent John Green-related buzz: the word “retarded,” which is uttered by a character in a derogatory fashion in one scene in Paper Towns won’t be in the movie. A recent tweet from a fan who was bothered by the use of the word stirred Green to state publically how he regrets having used it and won’t ever again.
For readers who haven’t read the book yet or want to re-experience it before seeing the movie, Penguin has released a movie tie-in edition of Paper Towns, which has a first print run of 1.5 million copies. The cover, like the movie poster, features an image of the two main protagonists, as played by Delevingne and Wolff. And, in case there was any question, the tie-in edition seems to have received the John Green stamp of approval. In a release from his publisher, Green is quoted as saying: “I love the cover – it beautifully captures Q and Margo failing to look at (and understand) each other while adding a hint of intrigue.”