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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Paper Towns

Less cancer, more angst - how does the new John Green adaptation hold up?

Beloved YA author, John Green, may not be a filmmaker himself but he is well on his way to being the Millennial answer to John Hughes with the release of the second movie based on one of his novels, Paper Towns. Much like the late and much missed writer/ director behind such teen classics as the Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Green has proven himself to have an uncanny grasp of adolescence in all its messy, uncertain and often funny glory.

After the blackly comic and unbearably moving The Fault in Our Stars, with its examination of how terminal illness might affect those who are too young to have lived a full life but too old to be unaware of what they're going to be missing out on, Paper Towns is a much breezier affair that nonetheless shows that you don't have to have cancer for adolescence to be a pretty painful experience. It's not as good as the Fault in Our Stars, to be honest, but its willingness to actually engage its audience with empathy, truthfulness and good humour puts it leagues above most movies aimed at teenagers.

Taking the well-worn plot device of the road trip and doing something kind of new with it, Paper Towns sees our young, quite introverted hero, Quentin (the Fault in Our Stars' show-stealing Nat Wolff) embark on a mission to find Margo (former model and surprisingly impressive actress, Cara Delevingne), the extroverted, adventurous girl-next-door who he is absolutely certain is the love of his love, after she skips town one night after the two of them spend an exciting and potentially romantic evening together getting revenge on an ex-boyfriend who wronged her. With his geeky entourage and her beautiful and popular best friend in tow, Quentin starts following the clues she left behind, most of which having to do with so-called "paper towns", fictional points on a map that cartographers would use to protect their work from would-be forgers.    

If you've ever seen a road-trip movie, you probably know where this is all headed but the story feels fresh enough that it never becomes overly familiar. More importantly, though they're just a tad too witty to be entirely believable, the teenagers that take up 99% of the screentime are well-drawn, complex and instantly likable and, for all of their teen angst and/ or pretentiousness, they're pretty great company for this particular ride. And, as was very much the case with the Fault in Our Stars, the film resonates without feeling overly melodramatic thanks to some wonderfully judged, usually character-based humour that keeps the film solidly on the right side of mawkish.

It doesn't pack quite the punch of the Fault in Our Stars but this beautifully measured tale of childhood's end is directed with understated elegance by Robot & Frank director, Jake Schreier, and features a cast of impressive up-and-coming actors but more than anything - and with all due credit to screenwriters, Scott Neustader and Michael H Weber - it's really all about showing just how damn good John Green is at his job.


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