Quentin–Q–(Nat Wolff)’s life has always been safe. Pre-ordained. Orderly. When his childhood friend and lifelong crush Margo (Cara Delevigne) goes missing, just days before prom and graduation, Q and his friends begin to follow the clues she left behind, and go on a roadtrip in a quest to prolong their inevitable goodbye and give Q the chance to tell Margo how he feels.
“Everyone gets one miracle in life,” is Q’s life motto, and he believes his was living next door to mysterious and enigmatic Margo Roth Spiegelman. Inseparable as children, they have now drifted apart–she, the spontaneous and charismatic Queen Bee, and he the down-to-earth, realistic future doctor. One night, years since the last time they spoke, Margo enlists Q to help her exact revenge on her ex-boyfriend, the girl he cheated on her with, and everyone who knew and didn’t tell her. Q is entranced, reminded once again of his whirlwind feelings for Margo, but before he gets to say anything, just like that, she vanishes.
She’s left little clues, which Q is convinced are an invitation directed to him–an unspoken reciprocation of his long latent feelings for her. With his best friends, tiny but loud Ben (Austin Abrams) and timid but steadfast Radar (Justice Smith), Q begins a scavenger hunt which soon comes to include Margo’s gorgeous best friend Lacey (Halston Sage) and Radar’s girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair), and escalates into a full-blown road trip from Orlando, Florida to Agloe, New York, America’s most famous paper town–a fake town used by map-makers to detect copyright infringement.
This is a film (based on a John Green book) about impressions. The idea that a person is more than what we think of them, that the complexities of a person cannot be summed up in a sentence, is vital to understanding the journey of the characters as they literally journey on towards Agloe and towards Margo Roth Spiegelman. Not one character you’ll meet is the person you think they are at the beginning of the film; each of Q’s friends, and Q himself, is revealed to be a multitude of things, good and bad, complicated, real. Illusions are broken left and right as Ben realises that Lacey is more than just a gorgeous girl, and Angela finds out about Radar’s parents’ Black Santa collection (largest in the world, probably. Yes, it’s a real thing.) Faced with graduation and the possibility of never seeing each other again, Q’s timely road trip brings the friend group even closer together, and helps Q see the people around him the way they are, rather than how he wants them to be.
As a Nerdfighter (long-time subscriber to John and Hank Green’s vlogbrothers YouTube channel, and member of their worldwide community dedicated to decreasing World Suck and increasing World Awesome), it’s actually great to see an adaptation that does justice to Green’s writing. His uniquely bittersweet sentimental tone is transliterated into film language: characters with interests and fears that ring true to the youth of today have sweeping slow motion flashbacks, then switch to quick-witted and relatable humour, all set to young, hip music like HAIM and M83. This critic gave an audible gasp at the appearance of a certain Woody Guthrie album, which Nerdfighters the world over will recognise from the similar logo on Hank Green’s guitar.
Fans of The Fault in Our Stars should keep an eye out for a certain cameo, though if you’re expecting the same level of weep, don’t: Paper Towns is a summer movie, a fond and bittersweet look at growing up and leaving high school and all its misconceptions behind. Funny, mostly lighthearted, and beautifully filmed under the direction of Jake Schreier, Paper Towns should be your movie of the week. If nothing else, for Nat Wolff’s superb performance, and for the cast’s improvised choral rendition of the Pokémon theme. It will not disappoint.
Watch my interview with John Green and Nat Wolff here:
Watch my interview with director Jake Schreier here: