Director: Jake Schreier
Cast: Nat Wolff, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Cara Delevingne, Halston Sage, Jaz Sinclair, Cara Buono, Griffin Freeman
MPAA Rating: (for some language, drinking, sexuality and partial nudity - all involving teens)
Running Time: 1:49
Release Date: 7/24/15
Review by Mark Dujsik | July 23, 2015
A young woman goes missing, or maybe she just runs away from home. It wouldn't be the first time she did that. No one knows where she is, but the rumors fly around school. Someone heard that she got a record deal after some producer heard her sing karaoke. Another says he heard that she became an environmental activist in Iceland—or maybe Greenland. She did tour with a circus when she was a kid, and when she was a teenager, she followed a beloved band up the East Coast. Anything is possible when it comes to 18-year-old Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne), a person who is as interesting as anyone wants her to be, which means she's quite uninteresting on her own merits.
Margo appears relatively briefly in the prologue and first act of Paper Towns, but she is the character at the center of almost every decision and conversation that occurs throughout the rest of the movie. We don't learn much about her, which is the point, and we don't understand why the characters put so much time and exert so much effort into finding out what happened to her. That, ultimately, is kind of the point, too, except that we're skipping a multitude of steps in getting to the movie's thematic argument, simply because Margo isn't that interesting of a character. That's definitely not the point.
Ostensibly, there is one mystery to the movie: What happened to Margo? The other mystery is unspoken and unintentional: What is it about Margo that causes such a hullabaloo?
The movie presents the answer to that question in the form of Quentin (Nat Wolff), Margo's neighbor. When she first moved into the house across the street, Margo was, in Quentin's eyes, a once-in-a-lifetime, bona fide miracle. He has loved her ever since, even though they have lost the friendship they had as kids since moving on into high school.
That's not exactly an answer as to what makes Margo special, because that definition of her is entirely on Quentin. What we do learn is that she's a rebel of sorts. She sneaks into Quentin's room late one night to ask for his help in her raspy whisper of a voice. She wants him to borrow his mom's car and drive her to pick up some supplies. The supplies, by the way, are to get revenge on her ex-boyfriend, who cheated on her with one of her friends, and the people who kept her in the dark about his cheating ways.
Quentin and Margo rekindle their bond over a series of cruel pranks. The two "share a moment," dancing in the empty office of an Orlando high-rise as Margo explains how Quentin just needs to expand his horizons and love life in the moment.
The next day, Margo doesn't show up to school, and over the next few days, it's the same situation. No one's too worried about her safety, although Quentin is convinced Margo has left him clues to find her.
The plot has Quentin following her trail of clues in a haphazard scavenger hunt, which features a lot of backtracking and convenient shortcuts, thanks to his buddy Radar's (Justice Smith) acumen with a web encyclopedia. Quentin's other friend Ben (Austin Abrams) is less helpful, an even worse liar (He makes up a lot of imaginary girlfriends and hook-ups), and an uncomfortably awkward presence around girls his age. In the process of trying to figure out the clues, the three learn important lessons about the importance of playing hooky, making grand romantic gestures, and other practices of questionable benefit.
A road trip to Upstate New York follows, with Radar's girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair) and Margo's friend Lacey (Halston Sage) tagging along, solely to provide the guys some romantic milestones. Here, we realize how little attention the screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (based on the book by John Green) has paid the characters who are actually present in the story. The trek starts with a gag about urinating into aluminum cans, only to become a montage of driving and a map charting their progress. There's a brief pause in which the boys get to discuss how things will change with the arrival of their college years, but we start to realize they are even more of an enigma than the purposefully enigmatic Margo.
To say whether or not Margo makes another appearance would be a spoiler, so let's just say that she does and doesn't turn up again. To its credit, Paper Towns does address the point we've come to realize long before the movie and Quentin get to it. The conclusion to Quentin's quest for love is admittedly honest, but it comes at the end of a lengthy, uninvolving journey.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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