“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”
Thanks to the worldwide success of The Fault in Our Stars which was adapted from John Green’s 2012 novel, the producers have decided to adapt some of his earlier work as well. Teaming up with the same screenwriters, Michael Weber and Scott Neustadter, casting Nat Wolff again (although this time as the lead), and hiring a new director, Jake Schreier (Robot and Frank), they had everything in place and ready to adapt Green’s 2008 novel, Paper Towns, with the hopes of banking on the author’s current fanbase. Although Paper Towns is similarly aimed towards a teen audience, it is very different from The Fault in Our Stars. It’s a coming of age story that includes some mystery elements and ends up turning into a road trip movie. So despite following certain generic conventions in the teen genre it does manage to mix things up a bit and that was something I enjoyed. Everything else about Paper Towns including its characters are pretty familiar.
The film begins as a typical boy becomes infatuated with girl story, but it soon develops into much more than that. In Paper Towns this boy is Quentin (Nat Wolff) and the girl next door he falls for is Margo (Cara Delevinge). They shared a friendly past, the two hung out together as kids, but when they became older Margo’s adventurous and wild behavior didn’t go along with Quentin’s much risk free and calm demeanor. During their senior year of High School, Margo was on her way to being the prom queen, while he was just the kids that went unnoticed. His two best friends, Radar (Justice Smith) and Ben (Austin Abrams), were aware of his obsession over her, but he never acted upon it. One night, Margo climbs through his window using her ninja skills as she used to when they were kids, and asks him to join her on one last mission. Apparently her boyfriend has been cheating on her with her best friend and she wants to get some payback. She asks him to drive her around on his mother’s minivan and after the successful mission Quentin admits never having felt so much fun before. The next day, hopeful to resume his new found friendship with Margo he discovers that she has gone missing, but she has left some clues behind for him. With the help of Radar and Ben the three begin to try to solve the mystery of Margo’s disappearance. Lacey (Halston Sage), one of Margo’s closest friends, also decides to join the kids in trying to find her since they seem to be the only ones worried about her.
Michael Weber and Scott Neustadter are definitely the two screenwriters you want to hire for adapting teen based novels. This is perhaps their weakest effort, but it still stands above most other teen rom-coms. 500 Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now were both very well written screenplays with interesting characters and relationships, while The Fault in Our Stars banked on the the strong chemistry between Woodley and Elgort. Wolff in that film delivered most of the comedic scenes, but here he downplays his character and lets Abrams deliver most of the funny quirky scenes. Delevinge embodies her wild character pretty well, but considering she is missing throughout most of the movie she doesn’t get much screen time. That is what makes Paper Towns such a rare teen romance because the girl is missing throughout most of the story and the focus is on Quentin’s quest to find her. It’s more about idealizing the other person and discovering that in reality they are simply a person. The mystery and the road trip is what makes this film stand out from other films in the genre and it makes the ride all that more enjoyable, but when compared to other coming of age films it probably ranks in the middle. The film shares some similarities with The Girl Next Door, which was a film I enjoyed a lot more probably because I was younger when I saw it. Paper Towns is a film for teens and if you’re not in that target audience you might find it a bit difficult to enjoy. There is one scene in the movie that reminded me of this when during a cameo all the teen girls in the audience sighed at the sight of him.