Buoyed by the success of superior teen weepie The Fault In Our Stars, based on the book by John Green, scriptwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber attempt to recreate the magic with this faithful adaptation of Green’s bittersweet third novel.
Paper Towns deals with similar themes of alienation and sexual awakening from the perspective of peer pressured teenagers, whose existence hinges on finding a date for the end of year prom.
Director Jake Schreier sensitively and earnestly navigates these turbulent waters, eliciting solid performances from a young cast including leading man Nat Wolff, who played blind best friend Isaac in The Fault In Our Stars.
In the absence of a dramatic hook like terminal illness, Schreier’s film sometimes lacks momentum and is missing a big emotional crescendo.
However, there’s a refreshing refusal to succumb to sentimentality when the going gets tough and the script doesn’t polish the characters’ rough edges in order to tie up loose plot strands in a neat bow.
Every childhood is tainted with confusion and disappointment, and this coming-of-age saga is no different.
There’s a refreshing refusal to succumb to sentimentality when the going gets tough
The film’s unassuming hero is Florida high school student Quentin Jacobsen (Wolff), who has been madly in love with neighbour Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne) since she moved into the house across the street.
He has never mustered the courage to declare his true feelings, to the chagrin of best friends Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith), who are also poorly equipped to communicate effectively with the opposite sex.
Ben is a hormone-addled mess around blonde classmate Lacey (Halston Sage), while Radar has a girlfriend called Angela (Jaz Sinclair), who he fears will dump him for someone better.
Out of the blue, Margo knocks on Quentin’s bedroom window and asks him to help her wreak revenge on her cheating jock boyfriend (Griffin Freeman).
The covert night-time mission is a success but the next morning, Margo does not turn up for class.
She vanishes without trace and her parents assume she has run away again.
Quentin knows that Margo leaves secret markers when she goes walkabout, so he follows a treasure hunt of cryptic clues to track her down.
Paper Towns refers to fictional locations, which cartographers intentionally add to maps to prevent their hard work being plagiarised.
Many of the underlying themes of Schreier’s film feel second-hand – paper angst if you will – but the script treats characters and their predicaments with a sense of cool, genuine affection.
Young hearts run free throughout to a soundtrack of indie pop and rock including Vampire Weekend and Twin Shadow.
On this count, these teenagers are too hip to be square.