Following striking supporting turns in Anna Karenina and The Face of an Angel, Cara Delevingne transfers her trademark quirky cool from the catwalk to the cinema screen for her first leading film role in teen movie Paper Towns - and her casting as enigmatic free spirit Margo Roth Spiegelman is perfect. Margo is the idealised object of affection of her 18-year-old neighbour and classmate in suburban Florida, dorky high-school student Quentin (Nat Wolff). The pair were inseparable buddies as small children, but for nine years Quentin has been worshipping Margo at a distance – from the other side of their school’s cool/nerd divide – until she suddenly turns up in his bedroom to sweep him along for a night of anarchic pranks designed as retribution against her cheating boyfriend and deceiving friends. ‘We bring the rain down on our enemies, not the scattered showers,’ she says of her hit-and-run capers, a Zorro-like ‘M’ left at the scene of her crimes.
No sooner has she re-entered his life, however, than she vanishes. She leaves without a word, but there are possible clues to her whereabouts that Quentin attempts to decipher – including a picture of folk singer Woody Guthrie taken from a Billy Bragg album (vinyl, of course) and a volume of Walt Whitman poems. Deductions made, he rounds up geeky best friends Radar (Justice Smith) and Ben (Austin Abrams), Margo’s spurned BFF Lacey (Halston Sage) and Radar’s down-to-earth girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair) for an epic road trip to New York State. The gang are amiable travelling companions and their joshing rapport keeps us engaged and amused. Yet for the story to work, we need to believe that this odd bunch would be drawn across the country by Margo’s magnetic pull – which is where Delevingne’s puckish charisma comes in. The film – based on the young-adult novel by The Fault in Our Stars author John Green – doesn’t dig very deeply into the ennui behind Margo’s flight, and its overall mood is safe rather than edgy. But what it does do very effectively is capture a particular quality of adolescent yearning, the way teens often feel nostalgic for the present while aspiring to be the heroes of their own myths.
Certificate 12A. Runtime 116 mins. Director Jake Schreier.
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