Way back in April 2014, I read and reviewed John Green's Paper Towns. As soon as the movie was announced, I knew that I was going to see it. My daughter (who also read the book), my husband (who did not), and I went to see it Saturday afternoon. I wanted to take a couple of days to fully digest the experience but now I am ready to talk about it. Needless to say, there are spoilers below.
Before I go picking everything apart, I'd like to say that I did thoroughly enjoy the movie. While there were a few moments that jarred me out of the plot (more on that later), it didn't interrupt the entertainment value. Now let's get into the nitty gritty.
There are a lot of differences between the book and the movie. Some of them, in my opinion, change the story a lot. Some of them do not. One of the big changes is the Sea World adventure. In the book, Margo convinces Quentin to break into Sea World during their revenge rampage. This doesn't happen in the movie. As a matter of fact, Margo explicitly states that they have 9 things to do (instead of 11 in the book) that night but I can only count 5...6 if you are super generous and count their shopping excursion. But maybe I'm mis-counting something. Either way, the Sea World thing is a fairly big thing in the book - after all, this is the first real illegal thing Q has done - and it isn't even addressed in the movie. The reason is understandable (no one wanted to give good press to Sea World) but it would have been nice to even have a throwaway line or maybe a discarded pamphlet or something to insinuate they did it anyway.
The movie also downplays the importance of the Omnictionary. In the book, editing the Omnictionary is Radar's LIFE. When he isn't in school or with Angela, he's editing the website. However, in the movie, the site is only used as a reference when looking up the term "paper towns." We don't see any of the characters editing it nor do we see it being leaned on heavily. I don't know that this is a huge change in the book. But it may have shown the boys as the social outcasts they were. Otherwise, it seemed like they didn't participate in social activities because they didn't want to.
However, the biggest change, in my opinion, is the road trip and everything that happens afterwards. In the book, Q, Ben, Radar, and Lacey skip graduation to take the road trip to Agloe to find Margo. The prom already took place. Quentin skipped the prom to go check out pseudivisions (abandoned housing divisions...also not discussed in the movie) by himself. In the movie, Angela comes with them and the gang (minus Q) insists they must be back to Orlando in time for prom. This is a very important part of the movie. So important, in fact, that the gang leaves Q in Agloe when they don't find Margo within their time limit. Yes, his best friends abandon him in New York for the prom. That is messed up.
After his friends abandon him, movie-Quentin makes his way into the nearest town and buys a bus ticket home. While waiting for the bus, Margo happens to walk by. He chases after her and the two have a couple of milkshakes and talk it out. Margo kinda pats Q on the head and gives him a "silly boy, I'm not coming back" type of speech. Then Quentin gets on the bus and joins his friends at prom. Happy times ensue.
In the book version, Margo is in the barn in Agloe. And Ben, Radar, Lacey, AND Quentin all find her. Margo rails at Lacey for dating Ben. Then she argues with Q about his perception of her. The gang doesn't leave Agloe until the next morning. Quentin goes back to Orlando with his friends and Margo goes on to New York City.
I think that the book version of the story is much more powerful than the movie version. Book-Margo decided to disappear from everything and everyone and she is angry that people still sought her out. She lashes out at the few people who truly showed concern for her. Movie-Margo comes off as an overly mature woman setting off on her own. But she's not. She is still a young woman trying to figure out who she is. Yes, she says this in the movie but that isn't how she looks or sounds or acts.
As I said earlier, none of these changes made the movie less enjoyable for me. Though I was thrown out of the plot every time they talked about the prom. But, for once, I can truly say the book is better. If only because it had a more emotional journey for the characters. Without them missing graduation or prom, the movie left out that heavy emotional impact.
(Side note: My husband said Margo was selfish and wasn't worth trying to find.)