Saturday, March 21, 2015

Paper Towns: Another Disappointing Cinematic Adaptation?

So I have a giant nerd crush on John Green.

He's amazing.

He writes teen books that I actually enjoy AND are popular with the general public (can't say the same for Twilight, Beautiful Creatures, Divergent, etc).  His male protagonists are so. . .normal.  They aren't the prancing, sparkling Edwards and Jacobs, but weird, awkward, flawed, delightful adolescent humans.  And let's not forget his wonderful online presence with Mental Floss and Crash Course, which I have used more times than is probably acceptable in my classroom.  But, fortunately, most of my female students also have giant nerd crushes on John Green, so it works out in my favor.

As far as his books go, it's been hit or miss.  I really didn't care for Looking for Alaska or An Abundance of Katherines.  The Fault in Our Stars was good, but I did feel a bit like a cheap violin.  No, my favorite was, by far, Paper Towns.  I love Q and his goofy obsession with his enigmatic neighbor, how he chases and chases and ultimately comes to the self-realization that he is Don Quixote and he stops tilting at windmills.  It is a coming-of-age novel that I can genuinely relate to, and one that I think is well done.  It's interesting enough to be engaging, not so far-fetched that it's not something that could have happened to some of my acquaintances in high school (certainly weirder things did happen to them).  I loved it.

And now they're making a movie of it.  My first question: why not make Looking for Alaska into the next John Green adaptation?  It's certainly more dramatic and packs more of that emotional punch.  So, here is the trailer:

Paper Towns Official Trailer

And here's a very telling promotional photo.  (Also, where's Radar's gf?  And why isn't it easy to see that he's black?  And that she's black?  But that's another question for another post.)

I think this picture very accurately sums up what is wrong with this movie.  Instead of it being about Quentin's self-discovery through the vehicle of Margo, it's about Margo herself.  She's the one who gets the biggest space in the picture; she's the one who Q talks about throughout the whole trailer; she's the reason for his existence, the key to his puzzle.

And that's just the antithesis of the book, so I'm really wondering how John Green can, in fact, approve of this movie.  I have heard JG quoted as saying something along the lines of, "no no, wait until you see the whole movie before you judge," but this get me wondering on several levels.

Firstly, I don't believe you.  That ain't gonna happen, for the basic reason that it would wound the egos of about a million teenaged, ticket-paying girls who really, really want to be Margo Roth Speigelman.  Because really, who doesn't want to be mooned over?  None of us wants to be stalked or worse, but most girls secretly want someone to be in love with them from afar, mooning over them in the delicious and antique ritual of unrequited love so paramount to the teenage romance novel.  Most girls also want to be: rebellious, dangerous, mysterious, and drop-dead gorgeous.  Margo fills the same purpose that Katniss and Bella and Tris and every other heroine does: we would rather be more like them than the girl with cellulite, frizzy hair, and trigonometry homework.  She is our vessel and we would gladly pay (perhaps multiple times and over the course of several tumblrs) to pretend to be for an hour or two.  So they won't pull away from her in this movie because it would alienate the young lady audience.

Secondly, is this how we have to get people to see this movie?  By painting it as this exotic and mysterious and exciting love story where this girl is (YET AGAIN) romanticized, the main character fantasizing about her and superimposing what he thinks she is onto what she really is, never really seeing her for the person she is?  And thus, we are also saying her (and his) behavior is permissible.  It's okay to lose all interest in school and friends and normal people activities to wander around town looking for CLUES that someone probably didn't leave you anyway about their underage AWOL activities, when really you should stop making shit up and also give more information to the police.  Because what if she hadn't been leaving a trail of clever breadcrumbs to her hiding place, what if she had been brutally taken as a hostage by a pimp or a gang leader, like so many young girls who get sold into sex slavery?  

But more than that, here was a story that was about all the right things: self-realization, growing up, letting go of fantasies and seeing people for who they really are, and all that is gone in this trailer.  Instead, what is left is almost as bad a Twilight or Divergent, in the mixed-up messages about how girls and boys, men and women, should treat each other.  Instead of treating Margo Roth Speigelman like a person, she gets relegated once more to the role of simple fantasy.  And she's not there to speak up for the person she really is, so no problem, right?  Let's just let Quentin off the hook - it's just harmless fantasizing, right?  No.  And not just in the book (a super-long road trip of eighteen year olds holds many dangers).  In society.  It's okay to fantasize about people and not recognize their personhood.  It's okay to make them who you want them to be.  It's okay to silence or ignore their voice on their own state of humanness.  It's okay.  And it's only a short hop from there to: it's okay that he's following her.  It's okay that he's forcing himself on her.  It's okay that he won't take no for an answer.

No means no, even when you're telling the person that you aren't who they want you to be.

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