Director: Jake Schreier
Cast: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Halston Sage and Austin Abrams
Running time: 109 mins
Release Date: 17th August
American teen movies are assembled from familiar parts. In Beyond Clueless, Charlie Lyne’s 2014 documentary on the tropes and themes present in the genre, over a decade’s worth of films centred on awkward adolescents were put under the magnifying glass and dissected in an attempt to understand what exactly makes them tick. What, rather predictably, emerged was that most of these films adhere to a strict formula, feature a number of stock characters and possess the same moral values. In other words, Hollywood gets its teenage kicks in a pretty generic fashion. Or at least it used to.
Over the past few years, a different breed of teen movies seems to have emerged. This new waves seems intent on tackling serious issues in a frank and emotionally honest way while simultaneously paying homage to the feel-good romanticism of John Hughes’ films of the 1980s. The teens we’re now seeing on the big screen are open about their feelings, dealing with real-life problems and are generally a little less plastic than some of their predecessors.
Paper Towns – Jake Schreier’s (Robot & Frank) adaption of John Green’s YA novel of the same name – belongs firmly in the second camp. While many of the aforementioned hallmarks and archetypes are present – the girl-next-door, the bookish boy, the life-altering road trip – the film also manages to gently subvert the genre in his own way thanks to an intelligent script and some unexpected twists.
The plot centres on Quentin (Nat Wolff), a strait-laced and uptight young man who has the rest of his life planned out before he’s even graduated high school. He’s shaken from his regimented routine when next-door neighbour/childhood friend/dream girl Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne) wakes him up asking for his assistance in an all-night revenge mission after finding out that her boyfriend has been cheating on her. After some deliberation, Quentin sets asides his neuroses, climbs out his window and has one of the best nights of his life. The next morning, however, Margo is gone with only a few obscure clues left as to her whereabouts. Quentin, tired of sitting on the side-lines, decides to follow the trail of breadcrumbs and track her down to tell her how he’s really felt for all these years.
Screenwriting duo Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadber have recently been making a case for themselves to be considered the successors to Hughes as the new chroniclers of American teenage life. With the likes of The Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars already on their resumes and already more in the pipeline, no one else is currently doing earnest and heartfelt teenage fare in Hollywood as well or as successfully as these two.
But while Paper Towns might have the same sparky dialogue and unusual quirks as some of the aforementioned films, as well as some low-key sweet moments of its own, it lacks the emotional gravitas of their best work and Quentin, our protagonist, is not nearly as charismatic as an Augustus Waters or a Sutter Keely.
The film works best when the talented young cast are allowed to bounce off one another. (Even if their talk feels slightly sanitised by the restrictions of the ratings board.) Nat Wolff – upgraded to leading man status following his impressive turn in The Fault in Our Stars – makes the most of his source material while Cara Delevingne as a disillusioned teen with a Holden Caulfield complex is charming enough to forgive the more unbelievable aspects of her character.
Paper Towns marks the second time Green’s work has been adapted for screen and it looks like more are set to follow. Weber and Neustadber are already at work on a big screen version of Green’s first novel Looking for Alaska with a 2016 release date mooted. They’ve got the style down, let’s hope next time they rediscover the heart.