Main cast: Nat Wolff (Quentin Jacobsen), Cara Delevingne (Margo Roth Spiegelman), Halston Sage (Lacey Pemberton), Austin Abrams (Benjamin Starling), Justice Smith (Marcus “Radar” Lincoln), Jaz Sinclair (Angela), Griffin Freeman (Jason “Jase” Worthington), Caitlin Carver (Rebecca Arrington), Meg Crosbie (Ruthie Spiegelman), and Cara Buono (Connie Jacobsen)
Director: Jake Schreier
Paper Towns is based on John Green’s book of the same name, and the people behind this movie wanted really badly for the same teens that made The Fault in Our Stars a big smash hit to do the same for this movie. Well, that is never going to happen, because this one lacks the emotional catharsis of the other movie. It’s just a story of a young man who is chasing after an ideal, with no romantic happily ever after as payoff. Furthermore, this is a story that is built on gimmicks and fantastical premises, with considerable suspension of disbelief needed to make the fantasy work.
Now, picture this: we have a young lady, Margo Roth Spiegelman, who apparently has such neglectful parents that they have no problems with her bailing out on school for long periods of time to run off with the band, do crazy things in all kinds of places, et cetera. To Quentin and the other kids in Jefferson Park High School, though, this only enhances the mystique and the mystery of Margot. To Quentin, especially, she is beautiful, fiery, passionate – the embodiment of everything he isn’t, and hence, he is infatuated with her. He dreams of her inviting him to one of her many adventures, but that never happened so far…
Until one day when she recruits him to play a series of revenge pranks on her boyfriend and her former best friend whom he cheated on Margo with, Margo’s best friend Lacey whom Margo believes to have kept knowledge of the affair from her, and a couple of other people. The adventure culminates in a slow dance in a hotel suite (don’t ask), and Quentin believes that, at last, maybe he will be someone in Margo’s eyes now.
But Margo never shows up at school after that evening. Her parents don’t care, as usual, and most people assume that Margo has run off on another crazy adventure. Quentin wants to locate her, if only to talk to her and see that she’s alright, and he is soon joined by his friends as well as Lacey on a road trip that will bring to them some considerable soul searching and coming of age.
Everything about Margo screams “a character from Enid Blyton’s story” – she has a ridiculous amount of freedom which she enjoys without accountability or repercussions, because her parents are ridiculously neglectful and Margo somehow manages to find the means to do her thing without having to resort to playing the drug mule or anything like that. Then again, the kids in this story can happily take off on long journeys without informing anyone, with the excuse that they are now 18, and they can do all these things without worrying about money. All this is possible, I suppose, if I am to believe that they are all trust fund kids, which is par for the course when it comes to John Green’s stories.
And then, I am to believe that Margo will leave “clues” about her next adventures to various people… for what? As Nat will learn later, she leaves those clues not because she wants to be found, but she wants people to know that she is okay. What, it is uncool to use a phone or leave a text message, that she has to do such nonsense instead? Margo comes off as a self-absorbed tease as a result of the many things that she does here, and it is hard to like her because she comes off as a user. Sure, she is a lonely person because her parents are complete wankers, but she’s also a wanker in her own right, so whatever. It also doesn’t help that Cara Delevingne plays Margo with all the range of a brittle cardboard cutout.
On the bright side, Nat Wolff plays Quentin with an endearing kind of earnestness, and I like how Quentin in the end learns the right thing – to focus on the people who are there for him instead of chasing after elusive fantasies. Aside from Ms Delevingne, the rest of the cast are generally likable and serviceable in their roles, although the script never allows their characters to be anything more than standard teen movie archetypes.
The soundtrack is pretty good, too.
Ultimately, Paper Towns is an implausible story that works mostly because of the winning charm and earnesty of the majority of its cast members. It doesn’t have anything new or interesting to say, so I’d suggest keeping this one for really slow days when there is nothing else to watch.