Movie Review: ‘PAPER TOWNS’ Reminds Us That We Still Have A Lot of Growing Up To Do


Preston Barta // Features Editor

PAPER TOWNS | 109 min | PG-13
Director: Jake Schreier
Cast: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Halston Sage and Jaz Sinclair

Jake Schreier, the exceptional filmmaker who directed 2012’s touching feat ROBOT & FRANK, returns and delicately directs one of this decades’s finest teenage romantic-comedies, PAPER TOWNS. Schreier assembles a talented ensemble and effortlessly captures the true experience of adolescence that begs to be seen more in a world where most conventional films tend to play it safe.

Based on the novel by John Green, this coming-of-age story follows a high school student named Quentin (Nat Wolff), or “Q,” who is content with sticking to the rules and making good grades. However, he’s always had his eye on the rebellious girl next door, Margo (Cara Delevingne), who “loves mysteries so much that she became one.”

After taking Quentin on an all-night adventure, Margo unexpectedly disappears, leaving behind breadcrumbs for Quentin to pick up and decipher. The search leads him and his group of friends (Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Halston Sage, and Jaz Sinclair) on a thrilling adventure along the east coast to find Margo and see if she really is the love of Quentin’s life.

Looking back on the history of coming-of-age films, there have been many great reels that have made it into the cinematic vault. The 80s featured more than a handful of what are now considered cult classics, such as FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982) and John Hughes movies like THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985), which tackled sex, partying and the sheer innocence of being a young adult. The 90s and 2000s brought a whole new wave of high school films, with movies like AMERICAN PIE (1999) and MEAN GIRLS (2004) to cherish by mixing more wit into the formula. But today, the design for the genre has been spiced up even more, with filmmakers moving towards authentic representation, especially the gifted writers behind this film– Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber.

Neustadter and Weber, who both penned the 2009 opus (500) DAYS OF SUMMER and last year’s other John Green adaptation THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, go beyond the pages of Green’s novel and create an incredible screenplay with honest yet likable characters that you cannot help but root for. Their attention to detail on dialogue is phenomenal, especially the humorous and appropriately sarcastic exchanges between Quentin and his pals Ben (Abrams) and Radar (Smith).

Cara Delevingne and Nat Wolff star in PAPER TOWNS. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Cara Delevingne and Nat Wolff star in PAPER TOWNS. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

While the story may feel like it jumps from place to place at times, it doesn’t dampen the film’s strong force. The idea that someone would leave clues behind this complex is like a “one-in-a-million” type of deal. I don’t think even Sherlock could put this puzzle together. So if you can buy into the story and roll with coincidence, then you’re in for one hell of a fun journey. Plus, the performances and the powerfully written scenes all feel genuine and natural. Audiences will get a kick out of one scene involving Quentin and Ben, where Ben stretches the truth and winds up telling a rather comical story in the same vein of Michael Peña’s character in ANT-MAN.

Wolff and Delevingne are simply above the acting talent that is normally seen in these kinds of films. Together or apart, both breathe life into their characters, allowing them a depth that transcends everything that Schreier allows the audience to see. You can feel their pain, their delight and their every sorrow on screen.

While Delevingne, who is going to create havoc next year with her sinister role in David Ayer’s SUICIDE SQUAD, doesn’t have as much screen time as you might think (go figure; she’s missing), she speaks a lot of truth and gives you things to reflect on and ponder about, especially at the film’s end. She shines here and showcases how her talent is not worthy of taking your eyes off of. But the real star is, of course, Wolff, who gives an astonishing breakthrough performance in the lead role and shows that he has more than the comical chops he had in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS as Issac. You feel for his situation and relate to his honesty. Watch as Wolff does more to surprise us in the future.

After a series of misfires, such as 2012’s disasterpiece PROJECT X and 2013’s forgettable college bomb 21 & OVER, I think it’s safe to say that most of us film writers were not expecting too much from this, especially since THE FAULT IN OUR STARS was a little more buttery than we wanted (but still pretty decent). But filmmaker Schreier and his team prove that they are capable of producing great work. There are even a few key scenes with Wolff that may cause you to shed a tear or two. But you also celebrate with him and enjoy hanging out with him and his rat pack.

So when you’re not watching Adam Sandler battling to save humanity in PIXELS and make a fool of himself, take this weekend to see PAPER TOWNS. It’s a delightfully engaging and poignant tale of love and friendship that is both crushing and hopeful— just like life.

P.S. It also has the most GARDEN STATE-like soundtrack of the year. I’m willing to bet you’ll be jamming the film’s playlist on Spotify after exiting the theater.

PAPER TOWNS opens tonight at 9 p.m. in participating theaters and opens nationwide tomorrow.

Our red carpet interviews with author John Green, Halston Sage and Saint Motel:

Official trailer:

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.