Reviewer: Stu Greenfield
Released: 17th August 2015 (UK)
Director: Jake Schreier
Cast: Cara Delvingne, Nat Wolff, Austin Abrams, Justin Smith, Halston Sage, Jaz Sinclair
Last year Josh Boone brought us the first adaptation of a John Greene novel with the emotionally exhausting Fault in Our Stars. Now another Greene novel, Paper Towns, has been taken on by director Jake Schreier. The same man who brought the charming Robot and Frank to our screens in 2012. To keep some continuity, along with recasting Nat Wolff, Fault screenwriter Scott Neustadter is also the screenwriter for this latest project.
Paper Towns focuses on the mystery that is Margot (Delvingne) and the hopelessly adoring Q (Wolff). As children they were friends but they grew apart and now Q can only yearn for her from afar, or rather from across the street. That is until one night Margot turns up in his bedroom (completely normal in America, apparently) and asks for his help. Being a teenage boy he obliges and has, in his own words, the best night of his life. Margot then disappears and Q’s mission, should he choose to accept it, is to follow a series of clues she has left to locate her and declare his undying love for her. But the end of his journey turns out not to be the point, and not quite what Q expected.
The film introduces us to the characters via a voice over from a teenage Q which suggests from the off that despite the marketing of the film, the story is about Q not Margot. Margot is the catalyst for Q to go on his journey, but she is not the central point of the narrative. In fact Paper Towns isn’t really a love story at all. It is a story of friendship and self-realisation that is brought about by Q’s love for Margot. The plot itself is nothing new. There are a couple of twists and turns but it doesn’t pave the way for new ground in terms of narrative. There no real risks in terms of the story telling, but this does not make it a bad film. Paper towns will make you think, despite not being the most insightful or explorative journey into the teenage mind.
The film displays some reminiscence of the Bratt Pack era John Hughes films. Specifically Some Kind of Wonderful where a boy chases a girl only to learn something he never expected to learn, and some of the comedy moments do not feel particularly original. Try and spot the Dumb and Dumber gag rehash during the road trip. What does come across and adds to the atmosphere is a real relationship between the friends Q, Radar and Ben. The friendship on screen is tangible and they fit together well as a friendship group which provides their interactions with a natural and realistic feel. Austin Abrams as Ben gives a particularly strong comedic performance. However Delvingne as Margot can be difficult to connect to. Her character is troublesome anyway, but Delvingne plays her with a certain confidence that borders on cockiness and whilst this is endearing at times it also acts as a barrier in connecting with the character.
The structure of the film manages to hold interest, which is aided by the mash up of genres that are utilised. It begins as a revenge story then we go on a road trip and end on a coming of age drama. Although this could have made the film ultimately confusing and mismatched it flows well and it seems to have paid off. There is a definite indie Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist feel to the film which will appeal to the target audience but may leave others wanting.
Overall, Paper Towns works as a book adaptation and as a teen drama. It delivers its message in a way that is recognisable but it feels a little lacklustre. It feels comfortable despite the twist at the end. If you enjoyed Fault, 500 Days of Summer or Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist you will enjoy Paper Towns but do not expect to be inspired to change your life.