Review: Paper Towns
At some transformative point in every young person’s life, one has a Margo Roth Spiegelman equivalent. A person of the opposite gender (or same, depending on preference) who is enigmatic, the life of any party, and, above all, beautiful. You are convinced that you share a special connection with them and that they, in turn, see something special in you too.
Such is the mindset and serendipitous fate of Quentin (Nat Wolff), the gawky, goofy, teenage observer/narrator in the latest John Green film adaptation Paper Towns. Ever since the confident but mysterious Margo (supermodel It girl Cara Delevingne) moved in across the street from him in his Floridian suburb, he has adored her and her idiosyncrasies. While as precocious youngsters they used to spend every day together, now they barely exchange knowing glances in the hallways of their high school. He and his overachieving yet dorky best friends Radar (Justice Smith) and horn-dog Ben (the scene stealing Austin Abrams) yearn to be amongst the popular crowd, led by Margo and her stunning best friend Lacey (Halston Sage).
A few nights prior to their high school prom (tweaked from the graduation setting of the novel, the first of many changes made by screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber to differentiate the film from the source novel), Margo sneakily slithers into Quentin’s bedroom, by way of his window. She offers him the opportunity to be his partner in crime in a series of nine wild revenge plots to get back at her cheating boyfriend Jason (Griffin Freeman), the vapid friend who he cheated with (Caitlin Carver), the bully (RJ Shearer) who tormented Quentin over the years, and Lacey, who never informed Margo of the cheating. Quentin, ever the worshiping fool at Margo’s sneakered feet, almost to the point of drooling, accepts, and together they embark on an unforgettable, adrenaline fuelled evening.
However, the following morning at school Margo is nowhere to be found. The resourceful Quentin must follow her puzzling clues, which leads him and his pals on a road trip to one of the titular paper towns (fictional locales on a map created by cartographers to avert copyright infringement).
Much like the previous John Green adaptation, The Fault in our Stars, the glaring issue with Paper Towns lies in its lead actors. While both films have scene stealing secondary characters (interestingly, Nat Wolff played the most fascinating character in TFIOS), the leads are never believable or more than one dimensional. While Delevingne undisputedly shines with charisma and vivaciousness in interviews, her Margo comes across as aloof and tedious, and one often wonders what Quentin sees in her. Perhaps if the ending of the novel hadn’t been drastically altered to cater to the implausible, hard to swallow (especially for fans of the book) pat Hollywood ending of the film, the rest of the film would have resonated more. As it is the film is as thin as, well, paper.