Pretends to be more serious and deep than it actually is. Paper Towns is the latest movie based on a novel by best-selling author John Green who brought us last year’s The Fault in Our Stars. However, before you get too excited and begin to develop expectations of this current movie, this film falls short of the emotional roller coaster and deep introspective thoughts you may have had rushing through your head in last year’s movie. That being said, Paper Towns is very well acted and the coming-of-age story will likely keep you entertained; and may even evoke some nostalgic feeling of what it was like to be 18 and a senior in high school–or maybe the way you would like high school to have gone for you. With a solid cast and natural chemistry between friends and lovers, this film successfully brings the last month of high school alive for the audience. The cast feels like “real” people amongst a sea of the “paper” people often encountered in movies and even in real life.
Paper Towns is about the mysterious disappearance of Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne), the “it” girl, from a local high school in Orlando, Florida. Her cute-nerdy neighbor across the street Quentin (Nat Wolf) has been in love with her for over nine years–ever since her family moved in across the street. After Margo comes to Quentin’s window late one evening, she takes him on the ride of his life as she pranks and punks some of her former friends and ex-boyfriend who have been keeping secrets from her. Ending the night with dancing in a high-rise in downtown Orlando, it looks as if Quentin may have his girl. Not so fast. The next morning, she turns up missing, and a string of seemingly random clues may lead Quentin to where he can find Margo. Teaming up with his two best friends Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith), Ben’s high school crush Lacy (Halston Sage) and Radar’s longterm girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair), they pile into Quentin’s mom’s minivan to trek across the eastern seaboard in order to find Margo.
This is one of those movies that will remind you of past films in the same sub-genre or vein, if you will. Immediately following the close of the movie, I could not help but think of the many elements and plot points that reminded me of movies such as Stand By Me, The Fault in Our Stars (not surprisingly), The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and The Kings of Summer. What do all these movies have in common? They are all type-A coming-of-age stories featuring characters who are trying to find themselves or their place in this world, typically occurring in the high school years, an often the last months of high school. Narratively speaking, Paper Towns shares many of the same tropes; but it is certainly not a reboot, remake, or simply a rehash of what’s been done before. It stands alone as unique in its own way. Unlike the endings of the aforementioned movies, the one thing that truly sets this film a part from the others is the ending–it is quite unexpected and, as a whole, unfortunately poorly executed and leaves the audience slightly angry and mostly unsatisfied. Can’t tell you what that is because this IS a movie built upon the premise of a mystery.
The brightest element of this production is the excellent casting. Honestly, these young people feel like they could be your neighbor’s kids or perhaps your friends. They are earthy, crude, funny, horny, selfish, and devoted. What really helps the story in this movie is the believability of the actors’ emotions and dialog. The writing is very natural, well paced, and usually takes us to the emotional highs and lows we need in the story. Both in appearance and in personality, the casting choices couldn’t have been better. I enjoy movies that take you back to when you were 17-18 and finishing high school. It’s like, ‘yeah, I remember going through that same stuff, talking about sex and alcohol, and our futures.’ The topics or discussion and the manner in which the characters engaged one another felt extremely natural and un-rehearsed. And, the little bit of romance between some of the characters is cute and heartwarming.
I was defintiely disappointed that the movie was so very close to hitting the emotional mark it needed to, but then fell just shy of it. It kind of leaves you in that awkward place that you may have found yourself in on a date when things lead right up to an intimate encounter with your love interest, and just before you hit the home run, it ends or plateaus. Emotionally, that is precisely what this movie’s plot does for the audience. Furthermore, the whole “paper towns” concept is never fully explained. That could be consciously done, but cinematically, I feel the analogy or symbolism could have benefited from deeper exposition. The audience is really left to draw many of their own conclusions and infer what the author or screenwriters meant by this or that. You can make sense of it eventually, but it would have been helpful for the movie to have explained it a little more clearly.
If you enjoy the movies I have referenced in respect to Paper Towns, then you will most likely enjoy this film. Definitely not really a group movie–more like one of those that you see with a significant other or maybe even alone. Unlike other movies that deal with the pains and triumphs of growing up, this one will not likely cause you to think too deeply about oneself or one’s life situations. BUT, this one is a movie to watch for the great acting and the interpersonal relationships between friends and lovers.