Cara Delevingne starts her acting career already famous. She had always wanted to act, but what was supposed to be a sidelight as a fashion model turned into a stellar career for the 22-year-old Englishwoman with the enviable eyebrows and cheekbones. She has appeared in films before, but Paper Towns is her first real acting role. And she lights up the screen. Playing a Jewish girl from Florida, she not only does a passable American accent while avoiding the instinct to play to the camera that plagues some models-turned-actors, but she manages to convey the sense of mischief, the intellectual questing, and the emotional neediness at the heart of her character. She’s the best thing in this teen drama. It’s just too bad the rest of the movie couldn’t follow her.
She plays Margo Roth Spiegelman, an Orlando high-school senior who lives across the street from fellow senior Quentin Jacobsen (Nat Wolff) and used to be his best friend before high-school popularity carried her into different social circles. Quentin still carries a torch for her, but they barely speak until the night when Margo crawls through his bedroom window and enlists his help in gaining revenge on her boyfriend and best friend, who’ve been screwing each other. Quentin has the best night of his life, only to find Margo has disappeared the next morning. As her disappearance stretches into weeks, he and his friends Ben and Radar (Austin Abrams and Justice Smith) think they’ve picked up a trail of clues that leads to her whereabouts.
This film rides the coattails of the success of last year’s The Fault in Our Stars. Besides also being based on a novel by John Green, it also has Wolff, who stole his share of scenes as a cancer-blinded teen in that film, not to mention a surprise cameo by one of the leads of The Fault in Our Stars. It also has that movie’s screenwriting team of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who have quickly become the go-to guys for mainstream young romance that doesn’t involve vampires (The Spectacular Now, (500) Days of Summer). Something’s missing here, though. Neustadter and Weber don’t bring their customary level of wit to this project, and director Jake Schreier (who made his debut with Robot & Frank) doesn’t do anything distinguished with the material. Aside from Delevingne, the acting isn’t anything to text your friends about, either.
Paper Towns is supposed to be about a boy discovering the real girl behind the idealized girl that he created in his head and then fell for. That’s all well and good, but the movie seems to have little sense of who Margo is. For all its flaws, Green’s novel was better at this, especially in the messy climax that is cleaned up considerably in the film. As a piece of cinema, this film is dispensable, but in Delevingne, it may have given birth to a new star.
Starring Nat Wolff, Austin Abrams, and Justice Smith. Directed by Jake Schreier. Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, based on John Green’s novel. Rated PG-13.[/box_info]