There’s something about that period of time right before high school graduation where everyone is vehemently excited but there’s also that sense of finality, where everything you do is the “last time” in high school. Paper Towns, the latest adaptation of John Green’s work, captures this feeling of excitable malaise and offers up a fun adventure that will surely make you feel nostalgic about those last days of high school, but it misses out on the weighty emotional impact that the novel beautifully delivers.
While not a tear-jerker like Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns seems more down-to-earth and reflective, making you feel more from memory than from watching the deteriorating health of two teenagers. Quentin, your average, nerdy unpopular kid maintains a crush he’s had on the typical girl-next-door Margo Roth Spiegelman since they were childhood friends. They found different social circles in their teen-years but, now on the verge of graduation, Margo shows up at Quentin’s window to get revenge on her now ex-friends, and then disappears.
Nat Wolff, who had a bit-part in Fault in Our Stars, takes the lead here as Quentin. His character, who is obnoxiously obsessed with finding Margo, thinks that she wants him to find her because of the clue’s he thinks she’s left him. Wolff is every bit as awkward and funny as Quentin is expected to be from the book, but his obsession makes him a unlikable at times as he delves into serious selfishness. The real success in his role comes with his natural chemistry with the other actors, especially his friends, Radar and Ben, played by Justice Smith and Austin Abrams respectively. Their banter and all-around demeanor with each other comes off as a real friendship, resulting in heartfelt moments as they reflect upon their lives as well as looking towards their uncertain future.
Cara Delevingne, whose name you will be getting pretty familiar with, plays the elusive Margo. Perfectly grasping the essence of her character, Delevingne—despite being absent for a greater part of the film—does exactly what her character does in the book—she makes a lasting impression on all of us. Part of us wants there to be a whole other film that shows her exploits while she is gone because there simply isn’t enough of her in the film. Her coolness exudes off the screen, as does her determination to escape from the “paper towns” of America and to find present happiness as opposed to finding it somewhere in a “conventional” lifestyle. But, then again, her character is never developed on her own and we only see what Quentin sees, which results in a skewed vision of a mythical figure.
Those final days of high school have been portrayed in a number of films, and it’s always tricky to subtly tie in the excitement with the repression of the fact that people might not ever see each other again. Paper Towns gets this part right, but it doesn’t capitalize on the power of its last pages and instead makes slight changes to an otherwise faithful adaptation in order for it to have a more resolved conclusion. This might be good for those seeking more closure, but for those who were massive fans of the novel might feel the emotional conclusion coming too early just for it to drag on a little more.
Paper Towns won’t make you cry like Fault in Our Stars, but it will definitely make you feel in different ways. With some shining performances and a nostalgic portrayal of getting ready to graduate, it manages to keep itself unique from a lot of other YA films about similar subjects despite its shortfalls. If you’re up for an adventure into your past and an uncertain future with a great group of friends, Paper Towns will show you the way.