Directed by: Jake Schreier
Premise: Based on the novel by John Green. A teenager (Nat Wolff) at the end of his high school career goes on a road trip to track down his crush who has mysteriously disappeared.
What Works: Paper Towns sets itself up as a romantic teen comedy in the mold of a John Hughes movie. The story focuses on Quentin, played by Nat Wolff, a shifty and soft-spoken suburban teenager who is in love with Margo, the unattainable girl-next-door played by Cara Delevingne. In a typical film like this, Quentin would be confronted with a do-or-die scenario in which he confesses his love and then the two of them live happily ever after. What is interesting about Paper Towns is the way that it entertains and then subverts that formula. Margo isn’t just Quentin’s childhood friend; she is the legend of the school and her classmates tell tales of her adventures which may or may not be true. Paper Towns is about the way men mythologize women and how men project meaning and values onto women who they only know in passing. The filmmakers set that up by sending the characters on what is, at its most basic level, a mythological quest. They must face obstacles and solve riddles in order to achieve the revelation at the end of the journey, only to discover that the prize at the end of the rainbow isn’t quite what they expected. Paper Towns is based on the novel by John Green who also wrote The Fault in Our Stars. Green has a sense for authentic teenage characters and many of the best moments of Paper Towns are based upon the relationship between the three lead male characters. Quentin, the risk adverse teenager, is friends with Radar and Ben, played by Justice Smith and Austin Adams, respectively. Radar is a nerd and Ben is a braggart and together with Quentin they form a likable trio that have a genuine sense of camaraderie. They are joined on the road trip by Angela, Radar’s girlfriend played by Jaz Sinclair and Lacey, a friend of Margo played by Halston Sage. These young actors tend to actually look and behave like high schoolers and that gives the film an authentic sense of place and character.
What Doesn’t: Paper Towns suffers from an overabundance of plot beats, casting choices, and coincidences that just aren’t believable. The main problem is the casting of Cara Delevingne as Margo. There is nothing about Delevingne that suggests that she would capture the imagination of her entire high school. Among the characters she is the one false note of the movie. Her dialogue is too precocious and pretentious. Even if Margo is supposed to be wise beyond her years, she frequently comes across fraudulent and condescending. It doesn’t help that Margo is more than just aloof; she’s a bit mean and inconsiderate. She disappears for days and weeks at a time without telling anyone where she is going and treats her friends and family terribly. The core of the movie is built around Quentin wanting to be with Margo but it’s difficult for the viewer to be anything but indifferent about the two of them getting together. Between Margo’s disappearance and the start of the road trip, Quentin and his friends assemble a collection of clues supposedly left by their friend. What the clues actually mean is at best conjecture and their discoveries are frequently preposterous. The characters arrive at conclusions that aren’t really suggested by the evidence and then pile into the minivan belonging to Quentin’s mother (what she’s supposed to do for transportation is never explained) and travel from Florida to New York in just two days. At the end of the picture, the filmmakers lose their nerve. To this point the movie has been about subverting the clichés of high school stories but in the finale Paper Towns falls back on the myth of senior prom.
Bottom Line: Paper Towns has interesting themes that it presents earnestly but the storytelling is erratic and unbelievable. The movie delivers a coming of age tale that its intended audience of teenagers will eat up but Paper Towns has too many implausibilities to be taken seriously.
Episode: #553 (August 2, 2015)