Engaging leads let down by a second act that gets stuck in the mud
Paper Towns is the latest adaption of a book by John Green following on from the success of The Fault in Our Stars (2014). This time around directing duties are undertaken by Jake Schreier (Robot & Frank (2012)) although the screenwriters remain the same. In this film Quentin (Natt Wolff) is a slightly geeky teenager approaching graduation who has for several years lived across the road from the enigmatic Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne). They used to be best friends before drifting apart as Quentin, worried about getting into trouble, stopped following Margo on her many ‘adventures’. One night she appears at his bedroom window as if they were kids again and persuades him to take part in one last night of misadventure. She disappears shortly afterwards and Quentin decides he needs to look for clues to find her location.
Paper Towns is a story about the power of myths, particularly at high school, and how they can ultimately become more powerful than fact. It’s about the pros and cons of cultivating those myths and the excessive importance of belonging in teenage life. There are subplots around having to move on and leaving friends behind which you will have seen dozens of times before. The main strength of the film is the relationship between Quentin and Margo as the two actors hit it off well in a similar fashion to The Fault in Our Stars. The gender roles are reversed in this story in that it is the female lead trying to get the male lead to get out of his comfort zone. I also enjoyed the soundtrack and my ears really pricked when I heard a bit of Vampire Weekend.
Unfortunately (and I’m not giving anything away here) Wolff and Delevingne are separated for a good portion of the film so its greatest strength is only in play at the beginning and at the end. There is a real problem with the pacing in the film when it gets bogged down in solving a clue in an abandoned shop in an iffy part of Orlando. The film didn’t need three or four visits to solve that clue and I think you could have shaved off 10 minutes – it is a simple tale at heart and there’s nothing wrong with keeping a film to 90 minutes. I had a bit of a problem with how the character of one of Quentin’s friends Ben (Austin Abrams) was used in that he was a bit of an idiot for most of the film but in the final act his physical and psychological demeanour changed out of recognition, presumably to suit a plot point. In a similar fashion Margo’s parents and a couple of other incidental characters get a distinctly superficial treatment.
I don’t normally go in for (not) interesting facts but Natt Wolff played the blind kid in The Fault in Our Stars and to provide some balance Cara Delevingne is English (good American accent) and a model. The film has a less compelling story line than that film I’ve already mentioned a bunch of times and it drags in the middle although this is compensated for by the relationships between the characters on screen. Solid effort, my rating 3/5.