As a twenty five year old whose tastes trend far older than her age, my knowledge of the man known as John Green is extremely limited. Apart from the fact, that he is a massive, massive deal. A powerhouse in the world of teenage young adult fiction, Green’s melancholy, sentimental and broad themed works are adored the world over by fans who revel in his examination of young love and young life. Following on from the inevitable success of the author’s last big screen adaptation, The Fault In Our Stars (a film which I did not particularly enjoy), now comes the turn of Paper Towns, an earlier novel by Green and one that I hoped would be a little more palatable to my overly cynical attitude.
Paper Towns tells the story of Quentin Jacobsen (Nat Wolff), a straight A, trouble fearing high schooler whose life suddenly takes a mysterious and adventurous turn when his childhood neighbour (and secret crush) Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevigne) goes missing, sparking a whimsical and clue filled road trip to find her and profess his undying love. Though the overall premise may sound as schmaltzy, sentimental and borderline pretentious as some (including me) felt The Fault In Our Stars to be, Paper Towns is actually quite a fun and enjoyable watch that takes some unexpected turns and produces some really heartfelt and deep moments. Of course, the film’s main themes such as impending adulthood, first love and figuring out one’s place in the world will be most strongly identified by a teenage audience, but there is certainly enough integrity in the plot for the picture to be accessible and enjoyable for a wide ranging audience. The long winded, philosophical monologues so prevalent in John Green’s fiction are of course present, but for some reason these passages feel much more palatable in this cinematic universe than they did in The Fault In Our Stars. The film does suffer to some extent with the air that what these teenagers are doing is implied to be the single most important thing that anybody has ever done, but if you can get over this surface level of pretension then there is certainly a fun ninety or so minutes worth of young adult drama and comedy with a pleasantly unique dash of mystery. Without giving away any major spoilers, I will say that those who were turned off by Green’s almost Shakespearean take on undying teenage love in The Fault In Our Stars will be pleasantly surprised by the climax of Paper Towns, as the narrative eventually saves itself by providing a refreshing and realistic jolt of reality that more cynical and pessimistic viewers like myself will really appreciate. Aside from the main plot, the film is fleshed out by a genuinely fun group of supporting characters who are consumed with prom, virginity and graduation, all standard tropes of teen drama that within the more sweeping context of the overall narrative, provide a grounded and recognisable universe for the audience to enjoy.
Though she has been the centre of much of the film’s publicity, as the missing Margo, model turned actress Cara Delevigne spends more time off of the screen than she does on it. Nevertheless, Delevigne gives a solid and enjoyable performance as the charismatic centre of protagonist Quentin’s affections. The part is played with just the write amount of sultry confidence and mystery that it is easy for the audience to understand just why Quentin is prepared to leave his comfort zone, not quite a standout performance, but certainly a more than decent for only her second lead role. Nat Wolff as the aforementioned Quentin plays it rather safe but ultimately gives the audience what they need to be able to empathise and connect with him. The actor boasts suspiciously good looks for a character who is supposed to be something of a high school outsider, but he commands the screen and creates a believable character regardless. Tasked with appearing in nearly all of the film’s scenes, Wolff carries the weight of the film very well and almost operates in the role of the straight man around which the varying cast of supporting characters can make individual impacts throughout. Of these supporting characters, Quentin’s two best friends played by Austin Abrams and Justice Smith provide most of the comic relief within the narrative, and they do so very well. On a side note, it is refreshing to see a high school film whose cast, even though they may not be, actually look like teenagers. One of my personal film pet peeves is watching a thirty one year old Hollywood heartthrob put on a backwards baseball cap and pretend to look seventeen, thankfully those responsible for casting had more integrity than some and stuck to a group of actors that are really very believable in their roles.
Overall, Paper Towns is undoubtedly a trademark John Green piece in many of its thematic elements, but a change in pace and a more playful and innovative take on the young adult romance genre proves for a much more interesting watch than The Fault In Our Stars. It may not take over the world like that picture did, but from a personal point of view, I would recommend Paper Towns out of the two Green big screen adaptations so far. Those looking for romance and light existential teen crises to empathise with definitely get their fix, but not in so heavy handed and self important a way as the author’s first adaptation showcases. A bit of interesting summer fun that offers a little more than the usual teen tedium that tends to rear its ugly head at this time of year.