Tag Archives: Nat Wolff

Paper Towns (2015)

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I was small part of the male population that really enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars (review here). I read the book by John Green first — and found it both moving and funny — before watching the film, which was still impactful because of its two likable leads, played by Shailene Woodley and Ansel Engort. Not to be forgotten from the film is Nat Wolff, who nearly stole the show as the blind romantic and the best friend of Engort’s character.

The success of the book and the film is the reason we now have Paper Towns, an adaptation of Green’s earlier 2008 novel of the same name. This time, Nat Wolff — said to have recently landed the role of Light in the Hollywood adaptation of the awesome Japanese manga Death Note — is rewarded with the lead role as Quentin, a graduating high schooler who has long pined after his neighbour and the most popular girl in school, Margo (Cara Delevigne).

It’s of course a coming-of-age story about youngsters on the verge of adulthood discovering who they are and who they want to be. It has your usual adolescent themes of friendship, love and sex, and tries to navigate this path with fairly typical humour and bittersweetness.

Given the success of Stars, Wolff’s performance in that, the return of same writing team (Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber) , and the rising reputation of Delevigne as Hollywood’s next “it” girl, there was every reason for me to be optimistic about Paper Towns.

Which is why it’s unfortunate that I have to say I didn’t like the movie at all despite accepting that it is well-intentioned. I had hoping that it would be another Perks of Being a Wallflower experience (review here), full of sweet nostalgia and insightful relationships and characters. Instead, I found Paper Towns to be actually kind of boring, a little contrived, often nonsensical and lacking a sense of groundedness.

Part of the problem comes from the treasure hunt-themed plot, in which not a whole lot happens for a very long time and is really far-fetched. I’m all for romanticising the high school experience in movies, but I think Paper Towns takes it a little too far and eschews too many realities and practicalities of life to make the story believable.

The other problem I had was with the characters. The performances were fine, but Wolff’s character did not strike me as a likable protagonist. In Stars he was affable; here he’s more of a typical nerdy hero but without the endearing qualities.

Cara Delevigne can apparently do it all and looks surprisingly student-like in this movie, and to her credit you can see why she’d be the most popular girl in school. However, that doesn’t make her likable, and if she’s not likable, that makes it hard for audiences to support Quentin’s quest to win her over.

I actually liked the supporting actors —  Austin Abrams and Justice Smith — who played Quentin’s friends more than the leads, though Halston Sage, who plays Margo’s “I’m pretty but I want people to know I’m smart” best friend, failed to convince me.

Rather than a touching, heartwarming, Paper Towns struggled to maintain my interest. To be fair, much of the dialogue is probably as mushy as that of Stars, though for some reason it moved me there but made me cringe here. When the most enjoyable part of a movie is when three teen geeks perform a drunken rendition of the Pokemon theme you know the film is in trouble.

Ultimately, Paper Towns is a film that would never have been made without the success of Stars. It’s nowhere near as atrocious as Stephenie Meyer’s The Host (which wouldn’t have seen the light of day without Twilight), though it’s also nowhere near as enjoyable or compelling as I thought it would be.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

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First the book, and now the movie. I’m not big on romance, but I consider myself a fan of John Green’s young adult cancer romance novel The Fault in Our Stars. Last week I finally got a chance to see the movie adaptation, directed by Josh Boone (set to direct a new adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand) and starring rising stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as a pair of cancer-ridden teen lovers.

I went in expecting a tear-jerker and still came close to discharging some saltwater from my eyes, which is no mean feat considering I almost never cry at movies and I knew exactly what was going to happen. I don’t have a problem with films that intend to manipulate viewers into crying as long as it is done in a non-exploitative way, and I think The Fault in Our Stars achieves, and if not comes very close to achieving, that objective. The emotions come not just from the realization that young lovers will inevitably be torn apart, but arise organically from the fact that we care about them and the special relationship that they have.

Woodley plays Hazel Grace Lancaster, a smart, uncannily self-aware teen living with terminal thyroid cancer. She’s already supposed to be dead, but a fictional experimental drug has miraculously extended her life for an indeterminate period of time. At one of the dreaded support groups her parents send her to, she meets Augustus Waters (Elgort) a former basketball star who lost a leg to osteosarcoma. The attraction is instant, and the two begin a sweet but doomed courtship that will take them from Indiana to halfway across the world.

I thought the book was awesome, and the film does a fantastic job of staying true to its source material. Much of the dialogue is there, the key scenes are all there, and some of Hazel’s inner thoughts are projected to audiences via well-timed but not overused voice-overs. There were some small changes, such as the cutting out of some minor characters and a clever (and arguably more effective) tweak to the ending, but for the most part the adaptation is as smooth as fans of the book could have hoped for, and kudos must go to Josh Boone in creating a tone that captures the essence of John Green’s voice and style.

Admittedly, it is difficult to transfer the love story from the page to the screen without losing something, and if one must nitpick it would have to be the loss of some of the sardonic wit of the novel. Much of it is there through the dialogue and interactions between the characters, but I guess it was too difficult to squeeze in all of Hazel’s astute observations and thoughts about the world and the people around her. But hey, I get that the focus is on the love story, and you can’t blame the filmmakers for sacrificing a bit of humour to make more time for tears.

The casting is also a bit of a mixed bag. Shailene Woodley is magnificent. I don’t know if it’s an Oscar-worthy performance, but in my humble opinion it’s as good as performance Jennifer Lawrence has given. Woodley drives the film from start to finish. She’s sympathetic but not pitiful, charming but not obnoxious, and she brings out the best of the qualities of Hazel as the protagonist.

Ansel Elgort, who incidentally played Woodley’s brother in Divergent, is solid but occasionally struggles as the love of Hazel’s life, Augustus Waters. It’s not an easy role to pull off because he needs to be attractive, witty, considerate and caring, and Elgort achieves that for the most part, though at times he fails express his emotions in pivotal scenes, opting instead for an awkward, supposed-to-be-but-not-really charming smile. But still, he’s better than Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner.

The supporting cast had some big names but not quite what I expected. Hazel’s mother is played by a rail-thin Laura Dern, who despite her excellent performance was not the actress I had envisioned in the role. Neither was Hazel’s father, played by True Blood’s Sam Trammell, who is given less to do and doesn’t deliver any more than he is given. The strangest casting choice was that of Willem Dafoe as the writer Hazel worships, Peter van Houten. Having read the book, I know the character is supposed to be fat and dishevelled, but Dafoe (despite trying to dress down) is neither, and it was hard reconciling the two in my mind. Even had I not read the book beforehand I probably would have expected more from the performance.

As it turned out, it was the lesser-known Nat Wolff (who appeared in Boone’s first film, Stuck in Love) who steals the show from the other supporting characters in his role as Augustus’s best male friend Isaac, who has already lost one eye to cancer and is about to lose the other. He was exactly how I pictured the character to be and comes across as both affable and genuine.

I can only imagine how my thoughts about the film would differ had I not read the book first, though I imagine it would still be highly positive. This is an easy film to like, with likable characters, a witty and thoughtful take on the bleak subject matter of cancer, and of course plenty of heartbreak mixed in with splashes of beauty and joy. It might still be a teen romance, but it’s a heartfelt and powerful one that does its best to avoid the cliches of the genre with rare wisdom and warmth.

4 stars out of 5