UK Release Date: 17th August 2015
Runtime: 109 minutes
Director: Jake Schreier
Writer: Scott Neustadter, Michael H Weber
Starring: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Halston Sage, Jaz Sinclair, Griffin Freeman
Synopsis: An youngster is inspired to go searching when the girl across the street goes missing after a night of mischief.
In the midst of a glut of young adult films in which everything seems to be a dystopian adventure, The Fault In Our Stars was a delightful surprise last year. Adapted from John Green’s tear-jerking novel, the film was a smart, touching take on the experiences of teens battling cancer that packed a hell of an emotional punch. Given that film’s success, it was only natural that more of Green’s books would make it to the big screen. The first of these is Paper Towns, starring woman of the moment Cara Delevingne.
Quentin (Nat Wolff) is nearing the end of high school, but has always been distracted by the enigmatic girl across the street – Margo Roth Spiegelman (Delevingne). One night, she enters his room and embarks on a night of mildly illegal hijinks with Quentin as her getaway driver. When she disappears the next day, Quentin and friends Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith) decide to track down Margo via an intricate breadcrumb trail of clues. Margo’s best friend Lacey (Halston Sage) comes along for the ride.
Paper Towns, whilst boasting the witty, well-spoken characters that have become a trademark of John Green, lacks much of the charm that made The Fault In Our Stars so impressive. The characters are nicely drawn and fun to be around, but they lack the same emotional pull that made last year’s Green adap such a special work. When that film’s co-lead, Ansel Elgort, pops in for a cameo, it serves only as a reminder of how much better this should have been.
| "What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person."
That’s not to say that Paper Towns is a bad film, by any stretch of the imagination. Its central characters exist in a very realistic world, in which they are insecure about their relationship situations and worry about the way they fit into the social landscape. It’s notable that Margo Roth Spiegelman, referred to almost exclusively by her full name, is the exception to this rule – an eccentric free spirit on her own personal undercover mission as part of the school’s popular clique.
Green constructs Margo as the textbook Manic Pixie Dream Girl, only to tear apart that sexist notion at the film’s climax. Unfortunately, that aspect of Paper Towns doesn’t quite hold true given that the film spends so much time indulging in that trope. By the time the film pulls its about-turn finale, it feels a lot like it’s having its cake and, rather anti-climactically, eating it too.
Paper Towns is at its best when it is revelling in the joy of its characters. The genuinely likeable everyman Wolff and pleasingly mischievous, spiky Delevingne showcase great chemistry during their night of mischief, perfectly capturing that feeling of carefree youth, where there’s no fear of reprisals. A later scene in which the Pokémon theme music is used to alleviate the tension of a terrifying situation is the film’s joyous highlight, as a perfect portrayal of youth and its preoccupations.
| "The rules of capitalisation are so unfair to words in the middle."
It feels wrong to criticise Paper Towns too heavily, given the level of fun it brings to the screen for much of its running time, aided by a genuinely engrossing mystery at its centre. Despite its intriguing characters and honourable attempt to subvert a rather old-fashioned trope, Paper Towns falls a little short of being the great film it should have been.
Pop or Poop?
John Green continues to show that he has a great handle on portraying youth in Paper Towns.
It isn’t as strong as TFIOS, but packs in plenty of whip-smart dialogue and creates excellent characters who go beyond their “nerd” archetypes.
It has a certain joy when it’s allowing the characters to simply be themselves and capture the spirit of youth, but often squanders that in an attempt to be just a little too smart.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.