Julia Pott is a British illustrator and animator based in Los Angeles. She completed her MA in Animation at the Royal College of Art and her short films have screened at festivals including Sundance and SXSW. She was named one of Filmmaker‘s 25 New Faces and an Indie Film Breakout by Indiewire. She is an ADC Young Gun and a YCN Professional Award Winner. Her clients include Bat for Lashes, Hermes, J. Crew, Madewell, Oreo, Rachel Antonoff and Toyota. She is currently developing a short with Cartoon Network.
Warning: spoilers ahead!
I need to preface this by saying that I am a sucker.
If there is a teenager who doesn’t know who they are and plans to find out over the course of a two-hour movie by falling in love, going on a road trip or having a makeover montage, I am there.*
My opinion on teen movies is the equivalent to Woody Allen’s feelings about orgasms in Manhattan: “I’ve never had the wrong kind. My worst one was right on the money.”
I walked into Paper Towns ready for heartbreak and weighty voiceovers. As the closing credits rolled, I thought, “Another teenage masterpiece – good job, America! Also, I wonder if Nat Wolff is over eighteen…” (I’ve since Googled him – he’s 20.)
When my friends unanimously agreed that it wasn’t a good movie, I was forced to question everything I stand for. (Except for my crush on Nat Wolff – our love is forever.)
I admit that if you’ve seen any other teen movie ever, Paper Towns probably can’t hold 16 candles to it. (I’m sorry, I had to. Please keep reading.)
The movie uses every teen plot convention in the book.
Set during the last two weeks of high school, it’s about Quentin (Wolff), a straight-A student living next door to the ludicrously attractive Margo (Cara Delevingne), who climbs out windows, goes on tour with bands, and doesn’t believe in settling down or plans of any kind. He refers to her as his “miracle” (I know).
One night she climbs through Quentin’s bedroom window and asks if he can drive her to BJ’s and commit minor felonies while he quietly falls in love with her carefree spirit and nice eyebrows. Which, of course, he does. The next day, she disappears and leaves behind a series of obscure clues just for him. When he figures out that she is in Upstate New York, he immediately drives up there with just enough time to pick her up and make it back in time for prom.
When Quentin finally does find her, however, she acts surprised to see him. She tells him that the clues were merely a way of letting him know that she was OK and that she never intended for him to come looking for her. What a tease! Did she really expect a boy pumped full of hormones to decipher the clues, figure out she’s in Upstate New York and think, “Farewell, possible love of my life – hope you’re enjoying some leaf peeping.”
I had beef with Margo in general. For someone who is supposed to carry the weight of the movie, she wasn’t interesting enough. Possibly because they were trying so hard to make her interesting.
Here is Margo’s highlight reel:
– She practices “random capitalization” in her sentences because the rules of capitalization are “so Unfair to words In The middle.”
– She says such crap as, “Sometimes to find yourself, you have to get lost.”
– She puts her thumb and forefinger very close together and says, “This is your comfort zone.”
This highlight reel aside, Paper Towns is an enjoyable escape. Wolff is a very endearing leading man, and there are some great one-liners in the film. My favorite is spoken by one of the nerdy friend sidekicks: “If there’s a tuba there, it isn’t a party.”
I just felt a little too jaded for how profound everyone was being. But as I watched 100 or so teenage girls applaud and leave the cinema chattering about their favorite moments, it raised the question – are teenage movies just better when you are a teenager?
When you’re a teenager, everything is crazy exciting. My teen years are cocooned in a hazy nostalgia – untouchably romantic, filled with hormones and possibilities. You take risks, throw caution to the wind and make bad decisions. So many bad decisions. But they’re great! And you feel so alive! And there are so many mixtapes.
When I was asked on my first ever date at age fourteen, he called my home phone and asked me to go to laser tag. He hung up before we could decide a time or a place, but it was still the greatest thing that ever happened to me.
Let me break it down for you.
Boy: Hi Julia.
Julia: Hi Boy.
Boy: Want to maybe go to laser tag sometime?
Boy: OK, bye!
If this happened to me now, sure I’d be excited about the promise of future laser tag, but also would realize this boy has no plan-making skills whatsoever, and I can’t build a life with that. I’d probably never call him again. What’s on Netflix?
Teenage Julia ended up going out with bad-laser-tag-planner for two years! Look what you’re missing out on, current-day-bummer Julia!
When you get older, everything becomes old hat. You’ve been in relationships, you’ve been on adventures – and though they’re still exciting, they’re not quite as glittery as when seen through the eyes of a teenager. Sure, I could go to BJ’s in the middle of the night and buy supplies to Saran wrap my friend’s car. But that’s going to be super awkward at work the next day. And what about the environment? And I’ll be tired.
So, I’m a sucker for teen movies because it’s the best way to get my teenage brain back. Yes, the dialogue is trite, but it didn’t seem so when I was younger. I want someone to put his hand on my chest and say, “You feel how fast your heart is beating? That’s how you should feel every day of your life” – and not immediately think, “What?! Shut up. Stop being a dick.”
When you enter the cinema, you can leave a decade of your life at the door. You may roll your eyes at the overly flowery profound statements, but secretly you’re thinking, “KISS HER – KISS HER YOU FOOL!” When they drive across the country to a killer soundtrack with hope in their eyes and Twizzlers in their mouths, the teenager inside you remembers how it felt to be that excited. And why can’t we be that excited all the time?
So, to sum up, I hate that it made me feel feelings, but it did and I do and I’m not even sorry.
*There is no makeover montage in this movie.