Paper Towns (2015)

Paper TownsPreviously partners in crime, neighbours Quentin “Q” Jacobsen (Nat Wolff) and Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne) have since grown apart, the former planning for the future alongside fellow outcasts Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith), while the latter lives in the moment with the in-crowd, including Lacey (Halston Sage) and boyfriend Jase (Griffin Freeman). One night, however, after an impromptu reunion “to right some wrongs, and wrong some rights”, Margo disappears from Orlando, Florida seemingly without a trace. Q knows her better than that, though, and searching for clues manages to trace her to Agloe, New York: a Paper Town used to protect a cartographer’s copyright. Together with his friends, Lacey and Radar’s girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair), Q borrows his mother’s car and sets off in pursuit.

Written by the same team of writers who adapted The Fault in Our Stars — Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber — John Green’s romantic drama about two teenage cancer patients, Paper Towns feels less like a standalone indie film than a highly anticipated genre piece. Previewing nationwide with a cast and crew Q&A, and featuring the sort of fan service usually saved for auteurial oeuvres or long-running franchises, Robot & Frank director Jake Schreier’s new film isn’t simply a release, it’s an event. Even more bizarrely, the excitement isn’t just palpable but contagious, partly due to the fact that The Fault in Our Stars was really rather good but also because star Cara Delevingne has become ubiquitous in popular culture in the run-up to the film’s release — proving herself to be 2015’s answer to Kristen Stewart or Jennifer Lawrence. Happily, Paper Towns is even better than its predecessor, and it’s hard not to get swept up in the youthful energy of it all.

Like The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns seeks to cut through the caricatures and cliches usually used to depict young characters — only this time focusing on adolescents in general rather than teenage cancer patients in particular. For a genre that’s given audiences the likes of Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen, strong protagonists who so often have the weight of the world on their shoulders, it’s amazing just how simplistic and unsophisticated they seem next to Green’s own flawed heroes — his almost revelatory young adults. Paper Towns deals with people’s perceptions of one another, not simply in terms of Q’s adolescent egocentrism — his friends at one point need to remind him that they are individuals in their own rights, with their own distinct needs and wants — but the very human tendency to mythologise those who can’t be understood — an irony surely not lost on Green when he had to come to the defense of one of his actors after an awkward junket interview. Nobody can ever know what is really going on inside someone else’s head — be it neighbour, classmate or girlfriend — nor should they presume to.

Paper Towns only really comes into its own once Margo has disappeared, however, and prior to her impromptu night of reconciliatory revenge with Q the film is harder to distinguish from the rest of its class — less a criticism of Delevingne, who recalls Emma Stone both in terms of likability and charisma, than of the initially uninspiring script. It opens with the same voiceover, the same incidents and seemingly the same soundtrack as just about any other high school movie you can think of, before finally setting out in search of something a little more interesting, a little more insightful, a little more subversive. Even in these early scenes though, Paper Towns is uncannily contemporary. Ironically, the coming-of-age drama has had trouble growing up, with even recent additions to the genre — up to including this year’s The Duff — feeling like throwbacks to its 80s and 90s heyday. Paper Towns is different, not just in its noughties cynicism but in the pop culture it chooses to reference. Whereas Pitch Perfect still had characters harping on about The Breakfast Club and 90s-set The Perks of Being A Wallflower fixated on a David Bowie song, Paper Towns quotes Game of Thrones and — in one of its stand-out sequences — samples the Pokemon theme tune.

Caught somewhere between festival picture and a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, Paper Towns has both something clever to say and the cogency with which to say it. Like all good high school movies it spends less time patronising its target audience than it does trying to appeal to all. Go in with an open mind; you might just be a fan.

4-Stars

 

 

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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