Teenager Q (Wolff) spends a night of misadventure with crush Margo (delevingne). Then she disappears.
Given that the Fault In Our Stars racked up a healthy $307 million worldwide on a minimal budget, it was only a matter of time before the rest of John Green’s six-book back catalogue would get fast-tracked to the big screen. Paper Towns, his fourth novel, doesn’t have the big emotional wallop of Fault but Jake Schreier’s film still delivers an enjoyable, well played, if hardly earth shattering, young-adult adaptation. Or, if you are using old money, teen flick.
Paper Towns is a film of two unequal halves. The first, shorter one traces the childhood crush of narrator Q on across-the-street neighbour Margo Roth Spiegelman. By the time they’ve grown up, Q (Nat Wolff, a holdover from Fault In Our Stars) and Margo (Cara Delevingne) have drifted apart, he becoming a square with his life mapped out in front of him, she a free spirit with an enigmatic mythology around her. Delevingne is perfect casting here. Building on the freshness and energy she showed in The Face Of An Angel, her Margo is the perfect mix of character, performance and persona. She makes it very easy for you to believe that Q would go along with her 11-step plan to enact revenge on the people who have wronged her — cue nude photographs, cling-filmed cars, eyebrow removal — in what becomes the film’s most lively enjoyable stretch.
The second half is kick-started by Margo’s disappearance and the hole it leaves in Q’s life. It turns the movie into a detective flick, as Q and best buds Ben (Austin Adams, who starts as comic relief then transforms into something more believable) and Radar (Justice Smith, the voice of reason) try to put together the clues Q believes Margo has left behind. It then becomes a road-trip movie as the gang, accompanied by Margo’s best friend Lacey (Sage) and Radar’s girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair), set off to find her, confident that Margo is staying in a paper town (a fictitious mark on a map left by cartographers to identify copyright traps on their work) near New York.
As a teen gang, they are fun to hang with, developing an easy, believable chemistry that goes some way to transcending the stock characters (The Sensitive One, The Sensible One, The Joker). But the beats are well worn — the nerds will make their mark at a keg party — and there is hooey about living life in the present and coming to terms with unrealistic expectations. Still, Green’s source material finds enough quirks (a family obsessed with Black Santas) to stave off convention, and director Schreier (this his second film after Robot & Frank) chivvies the action along with pace. It’s just a shame he didn’t take more of a cue from his enigmatic lead character: there are fun and truths to be had from taking a few more risks.
An engaging, if familiar, mix of teen rites of passage, the fun of friendship and mooning over a cool girl. Still, Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne make for a watchable duo.