I grew up loving coming of age films simply because of the way the genre has the ability to not only define a certain period of time but leave a significant impact on one’s life. Take Say Anything for example. This film is about an under achiever who falls for the most beautiful valedictorian of their class before the summer they go off to college. It’s more than just a love story. It’s about someone taking risks where they normally wouldn’t. Or The Breakfast Club. This film is about 5 high school students that have to take detention and end up having more in common than they originally thought. The biggest challenge with coming-of-age films such as these is that they must have memorable characters that we can identify with. Otherwise, it doesn’t work. Paper Towns falls nicely into this category along with John Green’s earlier novel The Fault in Our Stars, which was successfully adapted into a feature film last year. Now that the studios know John Green novels are a bankable commodity, Paper Towns is poised to hopefully strike a chord with audiences in a similar fashion to The Fault in Our Stars. Despite hopping on the John Green bandwagon, it’s respectable for studios to take risks on these films, particularly in a world filled with reboots, CGI and prequels. It’s nice to know original coming of age films still have a place in our cinematic universe.
Paper Towns is no different and already has a cult following. The premise focuses on a teenager and his friends who take a road trip to find the missing girl next door. Quentin Jacobsen (Nat Wolf), better known as Q has always had a crush on the seductive girl next door Margo Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne). Almost a decade earlier they accidentally stumbled upon a corpse together. Now completing their last year of high-school in Central Florida, Margo climbs through his window and encourages him to join her on a midnight madness revenge mayhem. The next day she vanishes leaving cryptic clues behind. Q’s friends set off on an impromptu road trip to try and find her. They race through the night hoping to find her.
Like The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns is about the idea of experiencing last moments together. In the former film, Hazel Grace and Agustus Waters are sadly facing death from cancer while Margo and Q are facing their final year in high school. While the latter film is far more upbeat, the idea of teenagers in love wanting to enjoy and cherish what little time they have left together is apparent in both works. Similarly both Margo in Paper Towns and Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars have big dreams and end up finding ways to achieve them. In Paper Towns, Margo says to Q during their revenge mayhem Margo tells Q that ” we’re technically not breaking in, since the window is already open.” It shows us that Margo is a free spirit. Likewise Hazel Grace demands to travel to Amsterdam to meet her favourite author. She has to clear it with her doctors and arrange for her mother to assist her, but she does what it takes to create a memorable experience for herself, and this determination draws those around her to want to help her. Margo, who leaves mysterious clues behind her creates a similar intrigue for Q and his friends as they are drawn to solve this mystery.
Paper Towns has a timeless quality about it. It’s a feel good film that has characters that you can see yourself in. The actors all conveyed relatable qualities. Nat Wolf convinced us he was falling in love with his first true love. This became his motivation for finding her. Margo is wild and free spirited. She believes in living moment to moment as openly as possible thus proving life doesn’t need to be taken so seriously all the time. Radar (Justice Smith) and Ben (Austin Abrams) struggle with fitting in socially. All these aspects can take us back to our time in high school when we could see aspects of ourselves in one or more of these characters. The actors were well cast and their comedic timing was succinct.
The soundtrack was quite good as well. Nat Wolf even performed and wrote a song called Look Outside. The sub plots with Radar and his romantic interest Angela (Jazz Sinclair) added an extra romantic element to the film. And while Paper Towns works great as a coming of age road trip film, the one thing missing from it was a lack of communication with parents. It’s very typical for films centred around teenagers to forget to touch upon the relationship between the teenager and his or her parents, and Paper Towns unfortunately neglects this element, which The Fault in Our Stars rightfully did not.
Overall, I enjoyed this film a lot. The cast did a great job and it was easy to get into the story. I was actually a little disappointed when it ended only because I wanted to see what would happen next. Going forward I’m curious to know what new John Green novels will be adapted to film.