Back to School Part II #50: Paper Towns (dir by Jake Schreier)


(For the past three weeks, Lisa Marie has been in the process of reviewing 56 back to school films!  She’s promised the rest of the TSL staff that this project will finally wrap up by the end of Monday, so that she can devote her time to helping to prepare the site for its annual October horror month!  Will she make it or will she fail, lose her administrator privileges, and end up writing listicles for Buzzfeed?  Keep reading the site to find out!)

paper-towns

Looking at the film poster above, you could be forgiven for immediately thinking of The Fault In Our Stars.  Of course, some of that is because it says, “From the author of The Fault In Our Stars” and because it features half of Nat Wolff’s face.  (Wolff had a key supporting role in Fault.)  Beyond that, though, the poster feels as if it could have just as easily been used for The Fault In Our Stars.  Check out the intensity of the stares.  Though we may only see half of their faces, both of the pictured characters appear to be daring the viewer to dismiss their concerns as being mere “teen drama.”

When Paper Towns was released in 2015, it was repeatedly advertised as being the next Fault In Our Stars.  Paper Towns does share Fault‘s unapologetic earnestness and, in a few scenes, its sense of inescapable melancholy.  (As people get older, they tend to sentimentalize the years that came before and, as a result, they often forget how coming-of-age and intense regret often go hand-in-hand.)  But ultimately, though they’re both based on novels by John Green and feature Nat Wolff, Paper Towns tells a very different story from The Fault In Our Stars.

Nat Wolff stars as Quintin, who is better known as Q.  Quintin is a student at Jefferson Park High School in Orlando.  He’s the epitome of a good kid.  He’s shy, he’s polite, and, somewhat inevitably when you consider what is currently valued in American society, he’s not particularly popular at school.  He spends most of his time hanging out with his friends, Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith).  And when he’s not hanging out with them, he’s pining for the most popular girl in school, Margo (Cara Delivingne).

Margo and Quintin have been neighbors since they were children.  When Margo’s family first moved in, she and Quintin became close friends but that friendship ended after they came across the body of a man who had committed suicide.  Traumatized, Margo drifted away from Quintin.  Now, nine years later, they are both seniors in high school.  Quintin silently loves Margo.  Margo rarely acknowledges his existence…

Or, that is, she doesn’t until the night that she suddenly climbs through Quintin’s bedroom window.  She explains that her boyfriend has been cheating on her.  She wants revenge on him and all of her friends, none of whom bothered to tell her what was going on.  A night of gleeful vandalism follows, ending with a romantic dance.

The next morning, Margo is gone.  She’s vanished and no one knows where she has gone.  However, Quintin is determined to find her and he is also convinced that she has left him a trail of clues that will lead him to her.  When he concludes that she’s gone to upstate New York, he recruits his friends (and one of Margo’s former friends) to go on a road trip with him.  Quintin is convinced that Margo will be waiting for him but, as always, the truth is a bit more complex…

While the plot description might make Paper Towns sound like a YA version of Gone Girl, it’s actually an achingly sincere and incredibly likable little film.  The entire cast has a good chemistry and their dialogue is clever without sounding artificial.  The best thing about Paper Towns is that it serves as a wonderful showcase for Nat Wolff, who is one of the best and most underrated young actors working today.  If you watch this film directly after watching Wolff convincingly play a self-destructive sociopath in Palo Alto, you’ll get a hint of Wolff’s range.

Paper Towns won’t make you cry like The Fault In Our Stars did but it’s still a pretty decent film.