Don’t worry, none of the teens have cancer this time. Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Halston Sage and Austin Abrams star in Paper Towns.
Cast of Characters:
Quentin “Q” Jacobsen – Nat Wolff
Margo Roth Spiegelman – Cara Delevingne
Lacey Pemberton – Halston Sage
Ben Starling – Austin Abrams
Marcus “Radar” Lincoln – Justice Smith
Angela – Jaz Sinclair
Mrs. Jacobsen – Cara Buono
Director – Jake Schreier
Screenplay – Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Based on the novel Paper Towns by John Green
Producer – Marty Bowen & Wyck Godfrey
Rated PG-13 for some language, drinking, sexuality and partial nudity – all involving teens
Quentin Jacobsen (Nat Wolff) is an Orlando, Florida teen who fell for his childhood best friend Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne) ever since she moved next door. Yet as the years went by they’ve drifted apart to the point of barely speaking to each other by their senior year.
Until the night Margo revisits old times by knocking on Quentin’s window and asking for his help in righting some wrongs done to her. The two have the time of their life getting revenge on some of their schoolmates, but the next day, Quentin learns that she disappeared. Her parents aren’t all that shocked; this isn’t the first time she’s run away, which is why they’re perfectly fine just waiting it out ’til she returns. Quentin, though, isn’t so content on leaving it be, and when he begins to discover clues she left behind for him as to her whereabouts, he and his two best buds Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith) are determined to locate them and find her.
Based on the novel of the same name by John Green, the same author behind last year’s cancer weepie The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns reunites Green with The Fault in Our Stars screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber who also penned (500) Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now, two of the best films from 2009 and 2013, respectively. Paper Towns has a quirky/heartfelt vibe similar to their prior films, even if it doesn’t quite reach the level they achieved.
Paper Towns is a coming-of-age drama, romance, and a teen mystery, and works as all three thanks to the wonderfully talented young cast leading the way. Like most teen films – both good and bad – the teens presented here are more idealized versions of the real thing, but there’s enough of a grounded touch given to them through Neustadter and Weber’s dialogue, which can liven up even the most mundane moments of the teenager’s day-to-day life, and the dynamic created between the actors.
Surprisingly, the film is at its strongest not when the focus is on Nat Wolff’s Q and Cara Delevingne’s “Paper Towns” (fictional towns created by cartographers to prevent copyright infringement) philosophizing pixie dream girl Margo, but when it’s on the friendship between Q and his two best friends Radar and Ben. Not that it’s a slight on Delevingne; despite playing the least-developed of the central characters, she delivers a fine performance and the chemistry between her and Wolff is solid, but the relationship between Q, Radar and Ben is so immensely genuine and relatable that the film works best in Margo’s absence during the three boys’ search for her.
It’s also highly unlikely you’ll find another group of boys who combine Herman Melville and Walt Whitman with Pokemon.
While the young cast are all strong here, it’s somewhat of a minor letdown that director Jake Schreier rushes the teens’ road trip where new relationships are formed and they discover things about each other they didn’t know before (Halston Sage shines in these moments as Margo’s BFF Lacey). As often as complaints are thrown at films for dragging some things out, this is one of those moments where we could’ve gotten more dedicated to that segment of the movie.
Also, for all the depth they give to the younger characters, Neustadter and Weber make the mistake of falling prey to a tried-and-true cliche of teen film writing – the noticeably absent adults. It’s a surprising misstep from them considering the wonderfully drawn authority characters they gave us in both The Spectacular Now (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler, Bob Odenkirk) and The Fault in Our Stars (Laura Dern). Granted, noticeably absent adult is a much easier cliche to deal with than noticeably moronic (another trusty cliche of the genre), but you’d think Q’s mom would show a little more concern in the fact that her kid’s driving cross-country to New York near the end of his senior year.
Still, for all its faults, Paper Towns concludes with a strong ending, and above all else benefits the most from a star-making lead performance from Nat Wolff (Stuck in Love, The Fault in Our Stars, Palo Alto), who’s able to hit the right “hopelessly naive romantic” notes without it coming off like mawkish and forced sentimentality. At times, you wanna shake your head like Radar and Ben do at his dogged determination to track down Margo, but at the end of the day, like his two buds, you too wanna tag along on his quest.
Strongly acted and pleasantly paced, if not a little too fast-paced at times, Paper Towns may not reinvent the teen film genre or be as deep and symbolic as it wishes it could be, but it still continues Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber’s streak (The Pink Panther 2 notwithstanding) of writing thoroughly enjoyable dialogue and character driven films, even if this isn’t nearly as good as their strongest work. The film mostly, though, relies on its talented young cast to carry it from beginning to end, and they all, thanks first and foremost to Nat Wolff’s terrific performance, don’t disappoint in the least.
I give Paper Towns a B (★★★).