YA author John Green has come in for some criticism on the Internet this week, but based on the first reviews of “Paper Towns,” adapted from the “Fault in Our Stars'” author’s earlier novel, his personal brand remains unscathed. Written by “Fault” screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber — who after “(500) Days of Summer,” “The Spectacular Now” and the upcoming screen version of Green’s “Looking for Alaska,” are building a teen-love brand of their own — and directed by Jake Schreier, of the charming if little-seen Sundance entry “Robot & Frank,” the movie stars Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne, the latter stepping up in her first major screen role. By and large, the first reviews praise “Paper Towns,” especially Wolff’s performance, although they split on whether Delevingne manages to make her Margo more than a mesmerizing cypher. Green specializes in both exploiting and undermining YA tropes — his Manic Pixie Dream Girls come with a dash of metatextuality — and “Paper Towns” walks the same delicate line.
“Paper Towns” opens July 24.
Reviews of “Paper Towns”
Justin Chang, Variety
It may not subvert every cliche of the high-school romance genre, but director Jake Schreier’s coming-of-age dramedy nonetheless pulses with moving and melancholy moments as it follows a 17-year-old boy who spends an unforgettable night with the girl of his dreams, then decides to pursue her when she suddenly leaves town the next day. Although it shares several producers, a writing team (Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber) and an actor (Nat Wolff) with Josh Boone’s adaptation of “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Paper Towns” turns out to be the better movie — less tearjerking and more affecting, and populated by characters who are presented not as paragons of cancer-riddled virtue, but rather as flawed, ordinary young individuals who are touchingly vulnerable to the social pressures and sexual anxieties of contemporary teenage life. Wolff, who’s present in just about every scene, manages to hold the center as a young man who isn’t overly concerned about either standing out or fitting in, and whose behavior can often be as hesitant as it is impulsive. But the real find here is Delevingne, an English actress who, with her subtly smoky voice and piercing gaze, makes the girl of Quentin’s fantasies a singularly charismatic presence, all the more so due to her limited screen time. What ultimately happens to Margo may seem somewhat ambiguous by film’s end, but on the evidence of her work here, this striking actress is here to stay.
Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
Part mystery story, part road movie and part pre-prom graduation romp, the film is most interesting as a perspective on adolescence in which all the girls are more mature, nervy and perceptive than any of the boys, who have some catching up to do if they’re to have a chance with any of them. The affable sincerity of the cast helps, led by the likably open performance by Wolff, whose Quentin becomes visibly aware of how much growing he’s still got to do. Delevingne delivers sufficient dynamics to carry the early going with her character’s well-wrought sense of payback and mystery, but she remains largely offscreen most of the way. Sage thus takes up some slack on the female side by giving some shadings, if not depth, to a standard-issue prettiest-girl-in-school character. Smith plays it very deadpan as Radar, while Abrams’ Ben is hard to take until the prospect of Sage in his life forces him to start acting like an actual human being.
Tim Grierson, Screen Daily
This likeable, emotionally precise film has a big heart and a genre-shifting construction that keeps the proceedings from feeling like just another young-adult meander. But despite an agreeably earnest performance from rising star Nat Wolff, “Paper Towns” covers familiar coming-of-age terrain and suffers from an opaque turn by newcomer Cara Delevingne that’s not quite as captivating as the story requires. Delevingne, a former model whose first major film role was in 2012’s “Anna Karenina,” isn’t quite up to the task. She possesses a bewitching beauty and lends Margo a slightly inscrutable air, but as written the character never lives up to the awe that Quentin shows her. Plus, “Paper Towns” hints that she’s a somewhat dark, extreme personality who’s willing to run away on multiple occasions and vandalize property to get vengeance on those who hurt her. But Delevingne doesn’t have the depth to suggest the stormy seas behind Margo’s eyes, nor is she able to hint at the beguiling mixture of bruised vulnerability, tomboy toughness and quick wit that supposedly explain Quentin’s helpless devotion to her.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap
The screenwriting team of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber hew closer to their previous collaboration on “(500) Days of Summer” than their work on “The Fault in Our Stars,” and that’s a good thing. As slick and contrived as the plotting may be from time to time, the writers and director Jake Schreier (“Robot & Frank”) throw in enough charming character moments and literal forward motion (this is a road movie, after all) to avoid getting bogged down in whiny teen solipsism. You might not believe that any of these kids exist, but you’ll enjoy hanging out with them. Schreier also makes the most of a gifted ensemble: Wolff, Abrams and Smith have a funny and unforced rapport, and Sage makes it easy to believe that her character is off to Dartmouth in the fall. Fashion model Delevingne has relatively little screen time but makes an undeniable impression as a high school heartbreaker, with the smoky eyes and smokier voice destined to send young men into a frenzy; there’s no question why Quentin would hijack his mom’s minivan and drive up I-95 to find her. If you’re outside of the John Green demographic, your enjoyment of “Paper Towns” will rely upon your willingness to stomach certain contrivances, not to mention a soundtrack stuffed with the songs of today’s youth. But even those adults who remained resolutely dry-eyed during “The Fault in Our Stars” might find themselves wanting to hop aboard for this journey, even if the seats are covered in Cheetos dust.