When a book contains main characters that are in their teen years and plots that deal with teenage issues, they are labeled as young adult books, but when they are translated into films there are a lot more aspects that must be dealt with in order to draw in that teen crowd. From the cinematography to the way the dialogue is presented, each individual step must be relatable to a younger crowd without belittling the intelligence of the audience. With the recent release of John Green’s sophomore film Paper Towns, the creators of this movie engage the audience by having an intimate narrator and simple cinematography, but failed at times to keep the connection between the main character and the viewers alive. Thus led to the lackluster reviews and poor box office standings.
The writers and director made the choice to have the main character, Q, present the story via voice over. This technique is often used in teen movies because it gives them a diary feel. It allows the audience to see the world from Q’s point of view so that they are able to relate and bond with him almost immediately. When the audience is introduced to his love interest Margo for the first time, they can feel his love for her because at that point they are inside his head. This means that when he puts her on a pedestal, so does the audience. That kicks off one of the biggest themes of seeing people as more than people and towards the end, when the lesson of this is revealed, the teenage audience is able to feel a strong relation towards it. Therefore, although voice overs can be cheesy, it works to draw in this movie’s target audience.
David Lanzenberg, the director of photography, keeps everything simple so that it can be more relatable. There are no overly scenic shots, the lighting never romanticizes the shots, and the camera work never takes away from the story. It all seems real, as if we are sitting in the room with the characters and watching their conversations or actions play out. He also saves the glamour shots for Margo. There are multiple times when she is shown flipping her hair in slow motion. This is something that makes the teenage crowd idealize her and therefore, once again, relate to the way that Q is feeling. For the most part, this type of cinematography is a positive point of the film, but when Q spends a night pulling pranks with Margo, the shots need to raise the anxiety of the scenes and that is not done by keeping the cinematography docile. The lighting is executed well, with shadows being cast across the locations, but there could be more jump cuts and rapid camera movements. This would have allowed the audience to stay in tune with Q’s mentality since he was claiming to be scared throughout the night, but instead, the audience becomes misaligned with him and his fear of getting caught. When this happens, the audience gets bored and disinterested until that connection can be reaffirmed.
Another problem is that the director and cinematographer did not give the audience hope that Margo could like Q back, which is such an important aspect to teen movies. The moment that Q and Margo have at the top of a tall building overlooking their town is supposed to do this, but it is clear that Margo’s head is somewhere else at the time. Even if she did not have any romantic feelings towards him at that point, the movie is setup so that we are seeing things from Q’s perspective and what Q saw was her reciprocating his feelings. Therefore, we as viewers should have seen a stronger sense of that as well. That would have pushed us into the second act of the movie with more determination for Q to find her after she leaves town. This was the director’s and cinematographer’s call with maybe some influence from the editors. It could have easily been fixed if they had chose to include a few close ups of Q and Margo looking longingly into each other’s eyes while they danced at the top of the building. The shot we saw of them dancing was farther away and cast in shadows. Maybe that was because it played into the theme that everything is prettier from a distance, but Q had not learned that lesson yet and therefore the audience was not in that mindset.
The characters are strong and the story is interesting, but the execution needed to shift depending on the individual scenes. Teens are a complicated demographic and every aspect of the film needs to be catered towards them. During moments when the movie loses its relatability, whether it be due to the lack of anxiety during the prank scenes or the lack of belief when it comes to Margo’s feelings, it loses its fan base. Even with these falters, the way that the audience becomes connected with Q and his point of view is extremely effective when on point and truly leads to a great payoff in the end.