|'a film with plentiful problems, yes, but also huge amounts of charm and a completely accurate idea of what it is like to be a teenager on the edge of leaving for college'|
Quietly, there are some very decent teen-focused films being made that it is very easy to be sniffy about if you struggle to remember what it is like to be a teenager. This Summer's key case in point is Paper Towns, a film with plentiful problems, yes, but also huge amounts of charm and a completely accurate idea of what it is like to be a teenager on the edge of leaving for college; drawn to cliché, different social groups, new friends and old.
At the centre of Jake Schreier's film sits a relationship between Quentin (Nat Wolff) and Margo (Cara Delevingne), the boy and the girl next door that he longs for. After a night of petty criminal revenge against her former friends, Margo disappears, leaving clues for Quentin to follow in order to find her. Roping in his small band of Ben (Austin Abrams), Radar (Justice Smith) and Lacey (Halston Sage), and with Radar's girlfriend (Jaz Sinclair) in tow, Quentin sets out on what appears to be just the sort of quest that he needs.
Wolff is perfectly cast. Whether goth, geek or jock, there is something about him that you suspect most teenage boys will be able to relate to. He sits at the heart of the narrative as an open, but never bland character and towards the end starts to morph into looking like a young Dustin Hoffman (perhaps not coincidental: it's a stretch but decisions late on hint at different directions to the relationship depicted in The Graduate and the fact that Margo's initials are MRS is surely no coincidence). Delevingne is less successful but perhaps through no fault of her own: Margo just isn't as sympathetic a character as she needs to be. Instead of kooky, she comes across as aloof and her disappearances reek a little too much of idealised angst and selfishness.
The mystery Quentin and friends have to follow is far too simple (at one point they're told they need to find a map, which they find in a pile of maps), but, as with all good road trips, the joy is in the journey rather than the satisfaction of the destination. Schreier proves that he can manufacture charm (a rendition of the Pokemon song in an abandoned building is a highlight), but also that he can do character growth and coming together. Lacey in particular benefits from the middle third, perhaps used a bit too obviously as the mouthpiece for some of the film's concerns around objectification and personality types, but still satisfyingly so.
Paper Towns is released on UK DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 14th December.