Last year, weepy romance The Fault in Our Stars (2014) in tandem with Divergent (2014) launched its leads, Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, to stardom. Paper Towns (2015), based on another novel by John Green, author of Fault, is a slightly different prospect, straddling the boundaries between the classic American High School Movie and the Young Adult literary adaptation boom. Jake Schreier (of 2012’s Robot & Frank) directs this coming-of-age tale. When two children, Margo and Quentin find a dead body, Margo wants to find out about the man’s life, while Quentin is happy to leave the matter alone.
Years later, as high schoolers approaching graduation, Margo (played by British model-turned-actor Cara Delevigne) and Q (Nat Wolff, co-star of The Fault in Our Stars and Palo Alto) have grown apart; she’s the universally-admired popular girl, while he hangs out with his two nerdy school band friends, Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith). One night, Margo turns up at Q’s window for the first time in years, inviting him to join her on a nocturnal revenge mission. The next morning, Margo has disappeared; with her parents uninterested, Q believes it is his responsibility to find her. Green’s novel, published before the colossal success of The Fault in Our Stars, has a manic energy to it that tips it strongly in the direction of comedy, and arguably closer to the archetypal Teen Movie than Schreier’s take on it proves to be.
Largely shot in lingering close-ups, with an atmospheric score by Ryan Lott of the band Son Lux, there’s a chilled, dreamy vibe to Paper Towns; less swooning than a Sofia Coppola film, but there’s a similar coolness to it. Q’s friendship with Radar and Ben – often insufferable in the book, but entertaining here – is a source of warmth and real chemistry, as are their budding relationships with Angela (Jaz Sinclair) and Lacey (Halston Sage). Though the marketing positions Delevigne and Wolff as co-stars, it’s really Wolff’s show, and his Q is a sympathetic, charming lead. The film slightly softens the novel’s infamously sharp ending, while mostly retaining the story’s warning of the dangers of putting people on a pedestal. Films about teens looking for love and acceptance may be well-trodden ground, but Paper Towns finds a fresher path to get there.