In the latest Jack Green novel-to-film adaptation Paper Towns, its protagonist Quentin (Nat Wolff) says that “Everyone gets a miracle.” And the same goes for Green and his deal with 20th Century Fox. After The Fault in Our Stars broke out last summer, it was only a matter of time before another one came calling. I haven’t seen Stars, but considering how fantastic Paper Towns is, I feel like I could give it a go at this point. Also encouraging is the fact it’s from the same screenwriting duo — Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber — who also gave us (500) Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now. Needless to say, Paper Towns is firing up to be the second Green film to draw in deserved box office.
Young Quentin (Josiah Cerio) really believes in everyone getting their one miracle. His happens to go by the name of Margo (Hannah Alligood), who has just moved in across the street. Instantly smitten, the two eventually become best friends, at least until the awkward teenage years come calling and Margo gets hot and popular (now played by Cara Delevigne), leaving a divide in their friendship. Quentin spends his days making good grades and setting life goals like going to college, having a career, and being married with kids all by the time he’s 30. His friends now consist of Radar (Justice Smith) and Ben (Austin Abrams), who are just as grade-driven as he is — even if Ben can’t stop talking about how much he wants to bang Quentin’s mom.
Just when Quentin finds his life almost too boring, Margo sneaks in his bedroom window in need of a getaway driver. She’s out for revenge against her cheating boyfriend and conniving friends who knew about it. Reluctantly, Quentin tags along, eventually leading to an evening looking out over Orlando from the SunTrust Building. Over the next few days, Margo winds up missing and her parents are so tired of it that they’re honestly relieved that she’s 18-years-old so they don’t have to report her missing. They’re convinced she’s just looking for attention, but Quentin becomes convinced that she’s strung along clues as to where she may be. It’s here that Quentin talks his friends — along with Margo’s best friend Lacey (Halston Sage) and Radar’s girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair) — into hitting the road to see if they can find Margo.
For anyone who is a teenager, has ever been a teenager, is in love, ever been in love, or suffered from unrequited love, Paper Towns offers a universal coming-of-age story. Hilarious and heartfelt, full of characters you grow to love before the film reaches the end credits, director Jake Schreier makes a far better film out of Green’s material than his Sundance debut Robot & Frank. Wringing a surprising amount of levity out of the pitfalls of growing up, he’s also cobbled together one of the best young onscreen ensembles since J.J. Abrams gave us in Super 8. They all feel like real friends, and even better, like people we could have, or were, friends with back when any of us were in high school.
The film’s pacing could have used just a tad bit of tightening up, but at only 107 minutes, you’re never bored and the mystery surrounding Margo’s whereabouts is always just enticing enough to make the adventure feel worthwhile. The best way to describe Paper Towns may sound a little odd, but you could say this is The Goonies meets The Girl Next Door. Trust me, once you see the film it’ll make far more sense.
While not the target audience, I thoroughly enjoyed Paper Towns and the film made me consider popping open one of Jack Green’s novels. They may be labeled “Young Adult,” but we’ve all been one at some point. The best part of the film is its unconventional ending. It was not what I was expecting, but felt way more realistic than any other route the story could have taken. It’s a breath of fresh air, and the whole of Paper Towns is too. A film that knows its demographic, but doesn’t pander to them, while giving the rest of us a winning film to enjoy as well. Don’t let the tween marketing turn you off, Paper Towns is worth the trip.