"Paper Towns": Flat, But Enjoyable

The latest young adult mystery-romance lacks flavor. In "Paper Towns," directed by Josh Boone, high school senior Quentin (Nat Wolff) gets a dose of serendipity when his crush Margo (Cara Delevigne) suddenly includes him in her nighttime revenge scheme. After she dramatically vanishes the next day, he sets out with his friends to find her. The movie is based on the eponymous John Green novel.

The film uses Green's signature adolescent honesty to create an enjoyable movie. Quentin and his friends, slumped in the band room wanting to attend a real party, remark that "if there's a tuba there, it doesn't count;" the group references their current English book throughout the film; Quentin's friend Radar (Justice Smith) confesses to his girlfriend that he actually "held a beer;" Margo's friend Lacey's (Halston Sage) beauty queen pains are believable, if trite. Such candid scenes don't feel manipulative or dramatic, making "Paper Towns" an inside joke to your average high schooler. Even if we haven't gone on a 24-hour road trip to find our enigmatic crush, most teens have experienced alcohol and dusty literature and stereotypes. Countless young adult films deal with teen problems (looking at you, Boyhood), but not with "Paper Town"'s gentle frankness.

Yet this relatability isn't enough at the movie's crux. After a long drive up the East Coast fosters several bonding moments among Quentin's crew, the exhausted seniors find neither hide nor hair of Margo. Her ex-bestie Lacey gives up, taking everyone but Quentin back home. Our somewhat spineless protagonist eventually finds his crush but realizes Margo is just an idea to him, a vessel for his romantic wants. On that note, Quentin heads home to his senior prom, choosing the real joy of friendship over illusory happiness with a girl he never truly loved. It's a nice message, but "Paper Towns" makes the moral too shiny and obvious to be enjoyable.

The actors shine despite their lackluster script. Nat Wolff handles Quentin with a cheerful awkwardness while Austin Adams and Justice Smith lend some laughs to the group as Quentin's buddies. Halston Sage solidly portrays Lacey as a snubbed popular girl. And Cara Delevigne imbues Margo with harsh ethereal mystery, the perfect girl for Quentin to project himself onto.

Ultimately, the film is not as moving as it wants to be. But that's okay. Viewers can still enjoy "Paper Towns" as a cute teen movie with an important message, albeit a glaringly obvious one.


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