Based on the book by The Fault In Our Stars writer John Green, Paper Towns comes with the burden of being model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne’s first mainstream cinema release. Yes she appeared last year in Face Of An Angel but that flew relatively below the radar. Paper Towns on the other hand puts her front and centre of the marketing material which is both smart but also misleading.
Quentin (Nat Wolff) knew he loved Margo Roth Spiegleman (Delevingne) from the moment he met her. But while high school proved kind to her Nat remained on the outside of the popular kids, his childhood friendship with Margo petering out to nothing. Until one night when Margo appears in his window and asks him to embark on a revenge mission with her against her ex-boyfriend and former best friends. With their plot complete Quentin hopes this is the start of a beautiful relationship but the following day Margo has disappeared. Finding a clue as to her whereabouts in his room Quentin, with the help of his two best friends Radar (Justice Smith) and Ben (Austin Abrams) and Margo’s former best friend Lacey (Halston Sage) set off on a voyage of self-discovery to find her.
The casting of Delevingne is a smart one for Paper Towns. Not because her performance is key to the film’s success, although it is a solid if unspectacular one, but because her presence is intentionally felt throughout the film’s narrative. Quentin idolises Margo and, despite his determination to be a good boy and go to college and follow the American Dream, cannot quite bring himself to just forget their magical evening together.
The coming-of-age drama works on a fairly shallow level. Friends realise that with school ending they may never see each other again, all of them discover who they are and what that might mean in relation to the rest of the world but more than anything it’s a film about stepping out of your comfort zone. Something that unfortunately the film never really does. In order to achieve that you need something a little darker, something with a little more edge akin to Stand By Me or The Perks Of Being a Wallfower.
As such Paper Towns descends into a little too much naval gazing rather than allowing for anything more substantial. When it works, primarily with the three best friends interacting, it’s fun, familiar and well observed. But when it doesn’t it’s because of Margo. It’s not the fault of Delevingne, whose presence is keenly magnetic, but the character herself is selfish, a little spoilt and a little too quick to judge. Therefore witnessing the endlessly likable Quentin almost throw his life dreams and friends away becomes frustrating. As Lacey points out to Quentin; she’s her best friend and out looking for her without Margo seemingly caring one way or another.
Wolff, Smith and Abrams all have great chemistry together. Wolff in particular carries the film well, an able successor to Logan Lerman’s awkward teen screen presence. Abrams brings a brilliant level of comedy while Smith is wonderfully pragmatic in his approach to everything. As starring vehicles go this is a smart move by Delevingne, because she really isn’t the star but is billed as one and, thanks to the central plot, always feels as if she is burning the brightest.
A recycled story of young love Paper Towns is crumbled in parts but offers enough warmth and insight into the teenage mind to avoid the dustbin.