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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Paper Towns and Mistress America movies review: girls’ stories are their own (and not yours, boys)

by MaryAnn Johanson

Paper Towns red light Mistress America green light

Want to debunk the myth and the mystery of the manic pixie dream girl? There’s a wrong way to do that… and an oh-so marvelously right way.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Greta Gerwig

I’m “biast” (con): really tired of manic pixie dream girls

I have not read the source material for Paper Towns

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Paper Towns for its representation of girls and women.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Mistress America for its representation of girls and women.

Paper Towns (2015)
red light 2 stars

Mistress America (2015)
green light 5 stars

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Paper Towns (2015)
US/Canada release date: Jul 24 2015 | UK release date: Aug 17 2015

MPAA: rated PG-13 for some language, drinking, sexuality and partial nudity - all involving teens
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate sex references, moderate bad language)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes
Mistress America (2015)
US/Canada release date: Aug 14 2015 | UK release date: Aug 14 2015

MPAA: rated R for language including some sexual references
BBFC: rated 15 (very strong language, strong sex references)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Thera Pitts

    I actually enjoyed the book, it was well-written and very funny in parts and the central mystery was actually pretty engaging. It was still annoying as far as the “privileged white boy finds meaning in his life with the help of a kooky troubled girl who should have better things to do with her time” theme went, but at least it had the foresight to call its main character out and rip the rug out from under him in a way that felt weighty for a YA book. The film didn’t even do that. I’m pretty interested in Missus America, I like Gerwig and Baumbach a lot too. I wish their films had more racial diversity but at least they do right by their female characters.

  • Bluejay

    What’s infuriating is that the director of Paper Towns HIMSELF seems to know what’s wrong with it:

    “If you really want to solve the problem of Manic Pixie Dream Girls and male protagonists, the best thing to do is to make movies with female protagonists.”

    He’s just not going to be the one to do it.

  • Bluejay

    The film didn’t even do that.

    Agreed. I reread the ending of Paper Towns after seeing the film, and it plays out quite differently. The film’s conclusion undermines a lot of what it thought it was about, even more so than the book.

  • Well, that *is* infuriating.

  • LaSargenta


  • mxdoe

    Baumbach is currently one of the most overrated writer/directors in
    film. If I want to see a Woody Allen film I’ll rent
    one. Whit Stillman’s writing about this crowd of people (what would be
    white and hipster today) is far beyond Baumbach’s or Gerwig’s ability.
    Neither Baumbach or Gerwig are that talented. Frances Ha was even worse
    with its silly dialogue and overall pretension. The characters are
    cardboard thin. But all that pretension and ‘quirkiness’ is welcome to
    that largely white and hipster crowd that swoons all over stuff like

    One of the worst aspects of movies like Frances Ha and
    Mistress America is the idea that these characters represent life in
    NYC. I imagine anyone of color being completely bored watching this
    typical white privileged nonsense.

    So at least do it well and do something original.

  • amanohyo

    Well, I enjoyed Frances Ha despite its extremely narrow scope, mainly because I like Gerwig. She’s cheerful and passionate without being overly twee and melodramatic as Zooey Deschanel often is. The characters in Baumbach’s movies do, in fact, represent life in NYC for a very small subset of people: young, white, overeducated, self-absorbed, entitled, jewish hipsters. The TV show Girls highlights a similar slice of humanity – the Wes Anderson demographic.

    Classic Woody Allen films focus on a slightly older, more affluent group of jewish white people. I don’t mind that Baumbach is trying to put his own minor twist on Allen’s formula. Watching Frances Ha felt like sticking my head inside of a safe, comfy bubble – I feel similarly when I watch a fashion show or a football game. Everyone inside the bubble takes everything very, very seriously within their realm, blissfully unaware of anything going on in the world at large. Baumbach’s (and Dunham’s) characters are often “poor,” in the sense of being underemployed, but most of them have enormous financial safety nets cushioning their falls.

    The trick I think Baumbach and Gerwig haven’t figured out is how to expand their films. Allen and even Soderbergh (sometimes) can tell stories that have a tight focus on a small group of characters and somehow gracefully lead the audience to something universal and essentially human. I don’t get that sense when I watch Baumbach’s movies (or Spike Jonze’s for that matter). The sense I get is: “these filmmakers know what it feels like to run out of money, but they’ve never been poor. They live like tourists in their own city.”

    So long story short, I agree with most of what you wrote – in the absence of desperation, sorrow, or meaningful failure, Baumbach’s films can feel a bit like First World Problems: The Movie. However, I still
    enjoy them, maybe because I am friends with a couple people that
    resemble these characters (although I’m neither white nor Jewish). Also, there’s something about Gerwig – I feel as though her characters are better than the movies they’re trapped in. She’s still in the bubble at the end, but is on the verge of popping out into the real world. She doesn’t have the complete picture yet, but she’s trying.

  • mxdoe

    It was good to read your thoughts, whereas mine certainly were a bit ‘drive-by’ in comparison.

  • Just saw PAPER TOWNS in second run. It was … okay. I didn’t dislike it as much as you did, and it made a token effort to convey the message about not turning real people into fantasy objects. But the book conveyed that message a whole, whole lot better. The book did everything a lot better. The movie condensed the story to the point where the plot and characters didn’t have enough breathing room to come into their own. Yeah, there has to be a certain amount of abridging in any adaptation, and I’m not film-savvy enough to say how they could’ve made this one work, but what they did wasn’t it.

    Almost a spoiler: The one trailer I saw for PAPER TOWNS begins with the protagonist’s parents giving him a car—a minivan like the one his mother drives. This scene must have ended up on the cutting room floor, as it doesn’t appear in the movie proper. Movie Quentin doesn’t get a minivan. Which, fine, except that they never add anything to indicate that Protagonist Boy’s parents might be the teensiest bit upset that he took his *mom’s* car to go on his epic road trip without asking first. That lack of finesse sums up my dissatisfaction with the movie.

  • Oh, the whole road-trip thing is ridiculous. “Hey, let’s drive to New York!” How did they pay for gas?

  • They all seemed pretty well-to-do, and there were a lot of people splitting the costs, so I can give ’em a pass on that one. Not so much, “Hey, let’s all cut school for a few days! I’m sure our parents and teachers won’t mind a bit.” All of this was accounted for in the book.

    As was Ben and Lacey going to prom. The book almost made you believe that they could wind up a couple.

    Sigh. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS also wasn’t as well executed as the book, but at least when they took stuff out and changed it, as they had to do if they wanted a reasonable running time, the resulting movie still made logical and emotional sense.

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