It seems like it’s been a while since there’s been a decent, intelligent YA movie, and while Paper Towns isn’t in the same rare air as (for example) the woefully underrated The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it’s got enough going for it that it still works.
Based on another uber-popular John Green novel (after last year’s The Fault in Our Stars), Paper Towns is a good story with a solid message and a refreshing resolution (no spoilers, don’t worry– assuming you’re one of the three or four members of the target audience who haven’t read the book).
Nat Wolff is Quentin (“Q”), a nebbish high school senior who has been madly in love with the pretty girl next door since she moved to the town more than a decade earlier. The girl is Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevigne), and though they started out as bike-riding buddies, they’ve grown apart (as kids often do once they hit high school). One night, though, Margo crawls in Q’s window, eager to borrow him (and his mom’s minivan) for a night of revenge against some friends who done her wrong.
A dead catfish, a bottle of Nair, and a can of spray paint later, Q has finally found a pulse– just in time for Margo to disappear. She left a series of clues behind, though (we’re told it’s her “thing”), and the promise of rescuing/reuniting with the girl of his dreams is just too tempting– so off he goes on a treasure hunt/road trip from Florida to upstate New York with his two pals, one of their girlfriends, and Margo’s BFF.
Buoyed by an excellent cast (particularly Wolff, along with Austin Abrams as his libido-fueled friend Ben), Paper Towns does manage to overcome its own timidity to emerge as a fairly entertaining film. Faint praise, sure– but the movie is a victim of its own devices. It never really reaches the level of edginess and depth that it pretends to have. Similar youth-awakening films like Perks, most of John Hughes oeuvre, and even Stand By Me are cheesy at times, sure– but they’re also populated by memorable characters, unforgettable moments, and, yes, some of that fabled teen angst. Director Jake Schreier, instead, seems content to just coast, making Paper Towns often look and feel like a breezy stroll through a Stridex commercial.
The finale does help, and the adapted script by (500) Days of Summer’s Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber is full of enough quirks and real-feeling high school moments that Paper Towns will surely resonate with the YA crowd. It may not be destined for a long life in Classic-ville, but it’s still worth at least a visit.