Film Review: ‘Paper Towns’ (2015)

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

“Paper Towns” is desperately trying to ride the box office coattails of last summer’s “The Fault in Our Stars”. Both films were adapted from popular young adult novels by John Green. “Paper Towns” is going to have a very hard time touching the success of “The Fault in Our Stars”.

That’s a shame because “Paper Towns” is a better movie.

Yeah, I said it. “Paper Towns” is a delightful little surprise of a movie, one that is not aimed toward me but I still found it enjoyable. Nothing about the movie is new but the familiar material is refreshingly told. I say it’s not going to match the success of “The Fault in Our Stars” because the agonizing doomed romance isn’t there. “Paper Towns” is much less manipulative and therefore much more fun to watch.

It’s interesting how successful Green has become with his novels, which aren’t very well-written. I read “The Fault in our Stars” and tried to read “Paper Towns” but his dialog is so phony and pretentious, I retired from preparing myself for the movie adaptations of his books. Luckily, in varying degrees of success, both movies aren’t as distractingly verbose as the novels.

In “Paper Towns”, star Nat Wolff gets upgraded from sidekick in “The Fault in Our Stars” to leading man. He plays Quentin – or, Q – a high school senior who is preparing to go off to Duke to become a doctor. He lives next door to Margo (Cara Delevinge), his childhood friend. They have been neighbors all their lives and go to the same school, but run in very different social circles and don’t speak as much anymore.

One night, the mysterious Margo climbs into Q’s bedroom through the window asking for his mom’s car and she needed Q to be her getaway driver. Q isn’t much of a risk taker and a stringent rule follower, so he has several questions regarding Margo’s plans but she doesn’t really want to tell him. Q hesitantly agrees and goes along with Margo on a night of pranks and revenge against her cheating ex-boyfriend and her best friends.

Nervous and anxious, Q is restless all night with Margo but loves being on this adventure with the girl he has had feelings for since they were kids. He can’t wait to get to school the next day to see her again but Margo doesn’t show up. After a few days of not showing up, Q finds out that Margo has run away, something she has made a habit of doing. Through strategically placed clues by Margo, Q narrows down where she might be and embarks on a 20-plus hour car ride from Florida to Upstate New York to find Margo.

Along for the ride are Q’s best friends, Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith). Margo’s friend, Lacey (Halston Sage), wants to find Margo as well and joins the boys for a road trip. The interactions of these fine young actors are what make “Paper Towns” so successful. Q, Ben and Radar’s friendship feels authentic, like these three have known each other for their entire lives.

As with Green’s work, there’s always one character that spouts existential mumbo jumbo. In “The Fault in Our Stars”, it was Ansel Elgort’s character and here it’s Delevingne. She isn’t in much of the movie, since the plot revolves around finding her, so the ruminations about life and what it all means are at a minimum. Phew.

Wolff is a star on the rise, and “Paper Towns” could find the young actor much more work. He has a natural, unforced charisma that holds a movie. “The Fault in Our Stars” sprung Elgort into superstardom but Wolff has a more down to earth appeal that could help him find success in independent films (his performance in “Palo Alto” is worth checking out).

“Paper Towns” carefully channels the restless ennui of high school life and the anticipation of what comes next. The payoff is a bit flimsy and anti-climatic but this is a movie about the journey and, to my surprise, I was glad I took it.

‘Paper Towns’ rates a 7 out of 10

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