Paper Towns review: Not just another teen movie

A very effective teen entertainment that feels more honest and less contrived than Fault in Our Stars

This week, Tara reviews The Wolfpack, an astonishing documentary about six brothers raised in captivity, and Donald reviews Paper Towns, the latest adaptation of a John Green novel. Plus, Donald reveals "the greatest threat to cinema today".

Film Title: Paper Towns

Director: Jake Schreier

Starring: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Halston Sage, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Jaz Sinclair, Cara Buono, Griffin Freeman, Susan Macke Miller

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 109 min

Sun, Aug 16, 2015, 13:00


The last adaptation of a John Green bestseller, the world-annihilating Fault in Our Stars, journeyed out with an easily saleable pitch: terminally ill teens in Amsterdam.

The follow-up is not quite so simple to summarise. Its opening act suggests that we are in Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory. Interviewee of the month Cara Delevingne plays Margo, a well-read teenage tearaway whose shy neighbour Quentin (Nat Wolff) has been in love with her for a lifetime.

One evening, as the senior prom looms, she climbs in his window and persuades him to join her in an act of minor terrorism. They end up at the top of a tall building where, looking out at drab Orlando, she lays out some adolescent philosophies about the wretchedness of such “paper towns”. (Don’t worry, lexicographers. The picture later catches up with the cartographic meaning of those words.) Then she vanishes, leaving trails of legend behind.

Delevingne is probably the weakest member of a dazzlingly strong juvenile cast and - though it may not be kind to say so - the film picks up during the lengthy sections where she is elsewhere. After various prevarications, Quentin and his friends, two boys and two girls, tease out the clues that Margo has apparently planted and set out to track her down.

The last thing we might have expected from Green 2.0 is a gentler, more American version of The Inbetweeners, but that is what we sometimes get (complete with gags about a “hot mom” and automotive weeing in beer cans).

Jake Schreier, director of the interesting Robot & Frank, also manages to tease out some genuinely poignant fears concerning the ghastly advance of the adult world.

Paper Towns never quite decides what it is doing with Margo. Is she a fleshed-out victim of bad parenting? Is she a kind of Nickelodeon Godot? “What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person,” Quentin says.

The film defies its own warning, but it remains a very effective teen entertainment that feels more honest and less contrived than Fault in Our Stars. Unfortunately, it will make nowhere near as much money. 

Paper Towns opens nationwide on Monday, August 17th