A graduating high school senior follows a series of clues to track down the girl he loves in Paper Towns, a John Hughes-like teen drama adapted from the bestselling novel by John Green.
I didn’t care for last year’s Green adaptation, The Fault in Our Stars, which I found inauthentic and even insensitive (and about half an hour too long).
But I had just about the opposite reaction to Paper Towns, which I found heartwarming, nostalgic – and utterly charming. At almost every step along the journey, the film feels entirely sincere.
A lot of that comes down to a talented young cast. Nat Wolff (who had a key supporting role in The Fault in our Stars) plays Quentin “Q” Jacobsen, an Orlando suburbanite who falls in love at first sight young age when neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne) moves in next door.
While the pair initially hit it off in their childhood years, they slowly drift apart as wild child Margo goes through a series of adventures and Q, who doesn’t want to get in any trouble, plays it safe by staying at home.
By the time the reach senior year, Margo has settled in with the cool kids – including jock boyfriend Jase (Griffin Freeman) and best friend Lacey (Halston Sage) – and Q with the nerds: verbose Ben (Austin Abrams), desperate for a prom date, and timid Radar (Justice Smith), who is afraid to bring his girlfriend back to his place – because of his parent’s collection of Black Santas.
When Margo has a falling out with her clan, she recruits Q to help her for one last night of revenge – and Q’s interest in a possible relationship is rekindled.
And when Margo suddenly disappears the next day – an act so unsurprising her parents don’t even file a missing persons report – Q takes it upon himself to find out what happened. Using clues Margo left behind – along with the help of his old friends, and some new ones – Q hits the road in an effort to find Margo and finally tell her how he feels.
The setup may be somewhat familiar, but I was genuinely surprised by the ultimate resolution, which features the kind of real-life insight rarely seen in films like this.
Director Jake Schreier previously directed Robot and Frank, which lovingly detailed the relationship between an assisted living robot and an elderly man played by Frank Langella. He brings a similar, slightly off-kilter sentimentality to Paper Towns, which helps the film score.
But the cast really makes the experience worthwhile: Wolff is incredibly likable as the lead in a breakout performance, and while model Delevingne is more dressed-down for this role than in The Face of an Angel, she still retains immense appeal. The supporting players, too, get to work with fully-developed storylines and make the best of the opportunity.
The titular “paper towns” refer to fake cities created by mapmakers to combat copyright infringement.
Ansel Elgort, co-lead of The Fault in Our Stars, has a cameo as a convenience store clerk. Director Jay Duplass appears briefly as a teacher.