6 out of 10
Nat Wolff as Quentin
Cara Delevingne as Margo
Austin Abrams as Ben
Justice Smith as Radar
Halston Sage as Lacey
Jaz Sinclair as Angela
Cara Buono as Mrs. Jacobsen
Josiah Cerio as Young Quentin
Hannah Alligood as Young Margo
Meg Crosbie as Ruthie
Griffin Freeman as Jase
Caitlin Carver as Becca
RJ Shearer as Chuck
Susan Macke Miller as Mrs. Spiegelman
Tom Hillmann as Mr. Spiegelman
Directed by Jake Schreier
While more engaging for teens than adults, the strong cast and mystery plot will keep everyone entertained while watching “Paper Towns.”
“Paper Towns” is based on the novel by John Green.
Ever since Quentin was young, his neighbor Margo has infatuated him. She is bold, curious, adventurous, and free-spirited – everything Quentin is not. At first they were best friends, but over the years they drifted apart. Now, as their senior year comes to an end, Margo suddenly appears at his bedroom window after years of not speaking to him. She wants Quentin to go on a nighttime excursion with her.
It turns out that Margo’s boyfriend has been cheating on her. Now she intends to exact revenge on him, his bros, the other woman, and her friend who didn’t tell her it was happening. And she’s enlisted Quentin as her accomplice. After an entire night of pranks and criminal activities… Margo disappears.
With the police looking for her and nobody knowing where she has gone, Quentin becomes intent on finding Margo. And much to his surprise, he finds she left a series of clues to her whereabouts. Now as prom looms, Quentin goes on the adventure of his life in search of the woman he thinks he loves.
“Paper Towns” is rated PG-13 for some language, drinking, sexuality and partial nudity – all involving teens.
Let me state this up front–I’m not the target audience for Paper Towns–John Green did not write this for my generation or gender. But my daughter is a John Green super-fan, a fan of the book, and the exact demographic the creators of this movie are aiming for. So I took my 16-year-old daughter and her friend to the screening of this film. As we waited for it to start, I had to listen to them talk about boyfriends, prom, drama with other kids, music, and other typical teen stuff. Then, as the movie started, the characters on the screen spoke about girlfriends, prom, drama with other kids, music, and other typical teen stuff. As far as I could tell, they captured teens today spot on and the evidence was sitting right next to me in the theater.
As the movie started, I didn’t really find myself identifying with Quentin and his friends. The problems of school, college, dating, and prom are so far in my past that it seemed trivial, and as the characters sang the Pokémon theme song and talked about their favorite Pokémon characters….I felt even older. But then as soon as Margo disappears, the movie significantly shifts gears. It becomes less of a teen movie and more of a mystery, and THAT is what I found engaging.
Quentin begins finding the clues left behind here and there, and as he and his friends get closer to finding Margo, you find yourself wondering what they’re going to discover at the end of the trail of clues. So that made it accessible to older audience members like myself as well as the female teen super-fans like my daughter.
The cast of Paper Towns is surprisingly strong. Almost everyone in the film, no matter how small their role is, has a moment to shine. Nat Wolff is good as Quentin, the lovable everyman. He’s equal parts nerdy and charming and that makes him likable to the audience. Austin Abrams also stands out as Ben, the stereotypical funny/crude friend. Justice Smith is fun as Radar, a kid who’s embarrassed that his parents are trying to amass the world’s largest collection of black Santas. Also notable are Halston Sage as Lacey and Jaz Sinclair as Angela. I think all of these kids will have strong careers ahead of them if they can avoid the pitfalls of celebrity.
The music in the film is pretty good as well. The soundtrack includes songs by Haim, Vance Joy, Sam Bruno, Vampire Weekend, and many more. My daughter has already probably bought the soundtrack on iTunes.
So what did my daughter super-fan rate Paper Towns? She gave it an 8 out of 10. By comparison, she liked The Fault in Our Stars a little better. So take that as you will.
What Didn’t Work:
Margo, played by Cara Delevingne, is an interesting dilemma. She’s a bit irritating as she tries to be eccentric, rebellious, and free-spirited. It just seems like she’s trying too hard. You start to wonder why Quentin is so infatuated with her, but honestly, that’s the point of her character. She’s trying hard to be free-spirited, because she doesn’t even know what she wants in life. Margo lectures the world for being shallow, but in reality she’s pretty shallow herself. So if she’s irritating, it’s because that’s how Delevingne is meant to play her. And if you question why Quentin is enamored by her, that’s the way it is in real life as well. Boys who think they are in love are stupid and they usually don’t realize it until time and distance has passed. If we question what Quentin sees in Margo, it’s the same with any crush. Still, Margo is a trainwreck waiting to happen and as the other kids question whether she’s worth all the trouble to pursue, you have to agree with them. And if you’re the movie ticket buying audience wondering why the boy is bothering to chase the girl, maybe that’s a problem. I wish Margo had been a bit more worth pursuing.
“Paper Towns” also proves that sometimes the journey is better than the destination. While the mystery is fun, when Quentin finally does come to the end of the trail of clues, it’s a bit anticlimactic. Matters aren’t helped that several plot threads are left unresolved as well. I won’t get into details, because it might spoil the film, but it was not a satisfying movie ending.
I asked my daughter and her friend how the movie compared with the book and they immediately said, “They changed a LOT.” They then rattled off a long string of differences and you could see that a lot of story was jettisoned for the sake of a tight movie script. Some book fans may find themselves disappointed that their favorite part wasn’t included.
The Bottom Line:
If you’re over 20, Paper Towns probably doesn’t have enough to make it worth seeing in theaters. But if you’re a John Green fan, it’s required viewing. And if you’re a parent required to take a teenager to it, it’s engaging enough to not have you checking your watch the entire time.