Based on a novel by John Green Paper Towns tells the story of Quentin Jacobson (Nat Wolff) and Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne) who have grown up living in houses opposite each other. When they were kids they were inseparable friends who did everything together, but after the pair found a body of a man who had committed suicide and Margo became wrapped up in solving the mystery of the man’s life the pair started to drift apart.
Now they are seniors at High School. Quentin is a safe student who has focused on becoming a doctor, getting married and having children while hanging out with his somewhat geeky friends, Radar (Justice Smith) and Ben (Austin Abrams). Meanwhile Margo has become one of the most popular girls in school, dated by the popular boys and hanging out with her best friend, the beautiful Lacey Pemberton (Halston Sage).
Suddenly after years apart Margo reaches out to Quentin to help her on one night of ‘crime’ as she gets revenge on her adulterous boyfriend and his friends, then she simply disappears meaning for once his life Quentin is the one with a mystery to solve.
There will not be a film that frustrates you as much this year as Paper Towns will. The film starts off, as the trailer suggests, as a well written teenage mystery, in the vain of a modern day Secret Seven or Famous Five, but then just as the film starts to get interesting it simply peters out with one of the weakest endings you are ever likely to see.
The disappointing thing is that director Jake Schreier (who directed the brilliant Robot & Frank) and a screenwriting team that boast The Spectacular Now and (500) Days Of Summer on their resume draw you in really early and have you loving this film in a way that suggests it could be one of your favorite films of the year. For once they seemed to have created very realistic characters with their own individual personalities. There are no clean cut Hollywood teens here, instead you get genuinely confused high school kids that show all the personality traits of the kids that you went to school with, including that kid that was obsessed by sex and saw every women (including his friend’s Mums) as a chance.
As a result you find yourself really barracking for these realistic characters so when Margot disappears you invest a lot of interest in whether or not Quentin can find her. But is here that the writing in this film falls away completely. It seems that as soon as the characters embark on their road trip all the suspense and drama of this film just goes completely out the window, and not even a near miss car accident can re-ignite it. Really the road trip should have started a lot earlier and been the main focus of the film but instead it becomes a rushed effort during which all the good characterization seems to simply disappear and important moments in the lives of the characters are just brushed over really, really quickly.
Then comes the final insult a finale that you both want to praise and criticize. First off you want to congratulate the creative team behind the film for not going with the traditional American ending that you would expect with a teenage romance, but at the same time the ending frustrates you so much that you feel that the only way the filmmakers could appease themselves is by delivering one of those dreaded sequels that gives you some insight into what happens to the characters when they go off to college (or whatever one in particular decides to do).
The one thing that Paper Towns does deliver though is some future stars. Nat Wolff steps up from Fault In Our Stars and takes over the lead role pretty well, while Cara Delevingne really shows just how far she has come in her short career with a commanding performance that shows that she may well follow in the footsteps of Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley and use a teenage flick like this to launch her into much better things acting wise. Then there is Halston Sage, who despite her smaller role manages to steal a lot of scenes, especially with a strong emotional scene set in a bath tub of all places. With her good looks and great acting skills Sage certainly has a big career ahead of her.
While early on Paper Towns threatens to be a teenage flick as good as The Spectacular Now or The First Time it ends up disappointing its audience with a melancholy finale and some really lame road trip scenes. Somewhere along the creative line something dreadful happened with Paper Towns and this once promising film just falls by the wayside, sad but true.
Director: Jake Schreier
Starring: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Halston Sage
Running Time: 109 mins
Release Date: 17 August 2015