Movie Review: Paper Towns


A teenage boy travels cross-country to find the girl next door who ran away.


Jake Schreier, 2015

Although they were friends during their childhood in Orlando, Quentin “Q” Jacobsen (Nat Wolff) and the object of his affections, wild child Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne), have drifted apart. Q hangs out with his nerdy best friends Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith), rarely interacting with the more popular Margo and her friends. One night Margo enlists Q’s help with a set of pranks, revenge upon her boyfriend and friends for cheating…and then, the next day, she disappears. Q becomes obsessed with following the clues that Margo left behind while his friends prepare for their last days of high school. Eventually, Q tracks Margo down, and he brings his friends along on a road trip to find her.


This film was adapted from a John Green novel by the same team that adapted the wildly popular The Fault in Our Stars, but the ideas it tackles are a little more complex and less dramatic than teens with cancer. Paper Towns is very slow to get going. It starts out as a trite, cliched teen movie, with Q lamenting his obsession with the manic pixie dream girl next door (he actually SAYS he’s nothing and she’s “special”). While these tropes are set up in order to be subverted, the movie spends most of its time indulging in the tropes it’s trying to subvert, which makes it a frustrating watch. The “magical night” with Margo is nowhere near as cute or charming as Q makes it out to be, and then Margo is gone, and we’re left with Q’s increasing obsession with finding her. Finally, his friends, who have largely been obnoxious or one-note up until this point, step up, and the film actually becomes entertaining. There’s a scene where the three of them sing the Pokemon theme song that is the first genuinely charming scene in the film. Margo’s best friend Lacey (Halston Sage, which is a name) and Radar’s girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair, adorable) join them for the road trip, and the group’s chemistry starts to pop.

Cara Delevingne is hard to describe in this film, because while she plays Margo exactly the way Margo should be played, the movie really drags whenever she’s in it. Nat Wolff is a lot easier to pin down. He is way out of his depth carrying a movie. He has a half-smile on his face for almost the entire film, making it difficult to connect with him. He also looks older than his two best friends, with the actually teenage-looking Austin Abrams switching from the worst character in the film to the most entertaining later in its runtime. Being a John Green adaptation, there’s a pretension to the dialogue and unnecessary narration that makes it hard to access. The thing is, the concepts that the film presents really are interesting. As a film for teenagers, there’s a lot in here that would be great for its target audience. The film pulls way too many punches, though, trying to keep Q likeable while exploring the darker side of his obsession and his assumptions about girls. It starts humanising the girls late in the game, but the messages about seeing people as complete humans rather than cyphers for the entertainment of boys are great. The end of the film does attempt to deconstruct the myth of Margo, and it contains some really salient lessons, but it’s not as interesting for adults.

Paper Towns on IMDb


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