Written By James Jones
Rating: 3 stars
In recent years, we have seen the emergence of a literary genre which has garnered as many critics as it has fans. Young-adult fiction (or YA, as it is also known) has proved to be very popular amongst its target demographic, focusing as it does on teenage angst, emotion and adversity. Such novels translate well to film and last year’s The Fault in Our Stars – based on the YA book of the same name by John Green – was well-received by audiences and critics alike. And now the latest John Green novel to receive the big screen treatment, Paper Towns, is set to hit cinemas.
Paper Towns is notable for being the first film to star Cara Delevingne, the supermodel most famous for those eyebrows. Delevingne plays Margo, a free-spirited and enigmatic girl who captured the heart of Quentin (Nat Wolff) when the pair were growing up opposite the street from one another. Quentin’s rather unadventurous childhood was at odds with Margo’s more wild and complex early years and their initial friendship fizzles out. Fast-forward to the last days of high school and Quentin remains infatuated, just as the rest of the school is, with the mystery and beauty of Margo.
One night, Margo appears at Quentin’s bedroom window and convinces him to join her in a series of pranks to take revenge on her ex-boyfriend and best friend. Letting down his guard, Quentin joins her and finds his sense of youthful abandon and fun. The next morning, however, Margo has gone (her parents are not worried – “she is 18, after all”) and Quentin is left wondering what, if anything, the previous night meant for their relationship. Then, in a rather strange plot device, Quentin discovers a series of clues left behind by Margo which he follows, together with his friends, to try and find Margo and confess his love.
This rather contrived plot drives a film which is part coming of age drama, part comedy, part mystery and part road trip and which speaks to its target audience with an affecting sincerity. The central relationship between Margo and Quentin is as frustrating as it is intriguing and the film brilliantly captures the immediacy and potency of adolescent feelings and relationships.
Shot with a vibrant edge, there are many moving moments peppered throughout the film. An early scene sees Margo and Quentin dancing atop a skyscraper, hinting at the intimacy for which Quentin longs. His lack of confidence, when placed opposite the self-assurance of Margo, is plain to see. Scenes such as these speak of the struggle between image and reality which often troubles teenagers: to the rest of the school Margo is the outgoing and popular girl, beautiful and bold enough to hang with the jocks. Underneath, however, she struggles to find an identity in, as she sees it, the blandness of suburban Orlando.
Perhaps as a result of her modelling career, Cara Delevingne is magnetic, enchanting the camera with an ambiguous and confident performance. Indeed, scenes without her (which make up much of the, rather weak, middle of the film) seem slightly dull in comparison and her acting career looks to be very promising. That is not to say that the other performances are inert. Nat Wolff manages to keep the audience on-side and some of his final sequences are charged with convincing emotion. The banter with his two best buddies (played by Justice Smith and Austin Abrams) is well-written and frequently funny. Paper Towns nears its zenith during the road trip to find Margo, mixing laughs, good tunes and blossoming relationships with assured and believable acting.
But Paper Towns‘ greatest feature is its ending which captures the essence of adolescent years. Quentin’s love for Margo seems to him to be, at the time, the most intoxicating and important thing in the world. In reality, theirs is a relationship built within the messy, intense, chaotic and confused lives of teenagers. The film’s ending is refreshing in its rejection of the idealistic and romanticised plots of other teen movies, challenging the audience whilst retaining a sense of youthful optimism.
Paper Towns is uneven and its plot is rather implausible, but its characters are relatable and the film has something definite to say on growing up and the meaning of adolescent relationships. Haters gonna hate, but young-adult fiction certainly has a deserved place in our cinemas.
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