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Cinema: Paper Towns & Vacation

Cara Delevingne and Nat Wolff  in Paper Towns
Cara Delevingne and Nat Wolff in Paper Towns

3 stars
Buoyed by the success of superior teen weepie The Fault In Our Stars, based on the book by John Green, scriptwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber attempt to recreate the magic with this faithful adaptation of Green’s bittersweet third novel.

Paper Towns deals with similar themes of alienation and sexual awakening from the perspective of peer-pressured teenagers, whose existence hinges on finding a date for the end-of-year prom.

Director Jake Schreier sensitively and earnestly navigates these turbulent waters, eliciting solid performances from a young cast including leading man Nat Wolff, who played blind best friend Isaac in The Fault In Our Stars.

In the absence of a dramatic hook like terminal illness, Schreier’s film sometimes lacks momentum and is missing a big emotional crescendo.

However, there’s a refreshing refusal to succumb to sentimentality when the going gets tough and the script doesn’t polish the characters’ rough edges in order to tie up loose plot strands in a neat bow.

Every childhood is tainted with confusion and disappointment, and this coming-of-age saga is no different.

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The film’s unassuming hero is Florida high-school student Quentin Jacobsen (Wolff), who has been madly in love with neighbour Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne) since she moved into the house across the street.

He has never mustered the courage to declare his true feelings, to the chagrin of best friends Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith), who are also poorly equipped to communicate effectively with the opposite sex.

Ben is a hormone-addled mess around blonde classmate Lacey (Halston Sage), while Radar has a girlfriend called Angela (Jaz Sinclair), who he fears will dump him for someone better.

Out of the blue, Margo knocks on Quentin’s bedroom window and asks him to help her wreak revenge on her cheating jock boyfriend (Griffin Freeman).

The covert night-time mission is a success but, the next morning, Margo does not turn up for class.

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She vanishes without trace and her parents assume she has run away again.

Quentin knows that Margo leaves secret markers when she goes walkabout, so he follows a treasure hunt of cryptic clues to track her down.

Paper Towns refers to fictional locations, which cartographers intentionally add to maps to prevent their hard work being plagiarised.

Many of the underlying themes of Schreier’s film feel secondhand – paper angst if you will – but the script treats characters and their predicaments with cool, genuine affection.

Delevingne is a puckish, cynical foil to Wolff’s naivete, and Abrams and Smith banter effectively as the comic relief.

Young hearts run free throughout to a soundtrack of indie pop and rock including Vampire Weekend and Twin Shadow.

On this count, these teenagers are too hip to be square.

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2 stars
In the 1980s, Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo played hapless parents Clark and Ellen Griswold in three raucous comedies under the National Lampoon banner, which reflected the exquisite agony of spending quality time with loved ones during the holidays.

Vacation, European Vacation and Christmas Vacation mined a rich vein of universal humour grounded in sibling rivalry and miscommunication between the generations.

Writer-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein’s contemporary update borrows the title of the first film and recycles the central plot, but spatters the heartfelt sentiment with a thick layer of filth.

Elegance and sophistication are strangers to a lumbering script peppered with paedophilia and projectile vomiting, that isn’t averse to an in-joke about the film’s hand-me-down origins.

“I’ve never heard of the original Vacation,” remarks a teenager.

“Doesn’t matter. The new Vacation will stand on its own,” responds his father.

It doesn’t – the new film is on its knees, wretching and wretched, from the crass opening set-piece.

As a boy, Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) undertook an epic cross-country trip to the Walley World theme park with his family.

More than 30 years later, Rusty is a commercial pilot for Econo Air with a beautiful wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), and two sons – sensitive teenager James (Skyler Gisondo), who plays a guitar, and foul-mouthed bully Kevin (Steele Stebbins), who torments his older brother.

For years, Rusty has taken his clan to a log cabin in Michigan for their summer holiday, but when he overhears his wife bemoaning the predictability of the excursion, he surprises the Griswolds with an impromptu road trip to Walley World.

The family begrudgingly bundles into a hulking hybrid hire car and hits the road.

En route, the Griswolds insult a rapist trucker (Norman Reedus), make a pit-stop at the home of Rusty’s sister Audrey (Leslie Mann) and her weatherman husband (Chris Hemsworth), and seek relaxation at a natural spring.

“This water was heated by Mother Nature’s bowels,” purrs Rusty, who fails to notice the steaming oasis is a raw sewage outlet.

The pungent brown goo, which the Griswolds smear on their faces, believing it to be mineral-enriched mud, is a fitting summation of this joyless and charmless comedy of errors.

Characters have no depth and none of the central clan is particularly likeable, even weakling James, who spends most of the film flirting awkwardly with a girl (Catherine Missal) on a similar road trip.

The script aggressively peddles puerile humour, liberally spraying bodily fluids and entrails over the actors, while Hemsworth’s slight contribution is reduced to posing in his underwear with a sizeable protrusion to draw the eye.

Cameos by Chase and D’Angelo provide a waft of sweet nostalgia to momentarily counteract the stink of everything else.