Movie Review: Paper Towns

From the director that brought you the fun but forgettable dramedy Robot & Frank, and the author that brought you every one of those teen romance novels that seem destined to find their way onto the silver screen (No, not Twilight), comes Paper Towns, a potluck of mystery, romance, comedy, and adventure. Much like the last entry by author John Green to make it to the screen, The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns takes us once more into the psyche of the average teenager, detailing everything from the simple high school crushes to the fundamental and complex ideals of how we view ourselves and others. Pile all this into one 2-hour flick, add a dash of campy espionage and a witty cast, and you may just have a perfect summer movie. 


You could say Quentin (Nat Wolff) was in for the ride of a lifetime from the first time he laid eyes on her. The night Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne) found her way on the window sill outside Quentin's bedroom was the night shy guy "Q" discovered not only the world outside his own small world, but also discovered his deep love for Margo the mystery girl. Following Margo on an midnight escapade of epic proportions, Quentin quickly learns more about his former childhood friend than he ever knew. But just as he contemplates what to do with this knowledge, and how to confront Margo about his feelings, she vanishes. Embarking on a sudden treasure hunt for his mystery girl, accompanied by a motley gang of friends and following distinct clues to Margo's whereabouts, Quentin begins to wonder what may be more important to him in the end: the journey or the destination?  


After skipping out on the first of the John Green novels to be made into a film, that tear-jerking tale of two cancer patients that find love in a strange place, I was at first quite skeptical about his latest, wondering whether I was a fan of the sappy love stories and teen clichés of typical young adult authors. Fortunately, John Green's Paper Towns was less of a tear-jerker, and more of an exciting mystery from start-to-finish. Having been my first true taste of Green's writing (other than his hilarious Crash Course videos), as I haven't yet picked up any of his novels, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that not only could the witty writer churn out a sad rom-com, but he could also deliver a successful mystery tale that holds you from the very beginning. Yes, while it may have the typical teen clichés I mentioned earlier, as well as the slightest hint at the sappy elements, Paper Towns is very much a different kind of beast than last year's Fault in Our Stars, once again offering up something fresh and relatable for the summer season.


Love story, mystery, coming-of-age, road trip. That is pretty much all you need to know when talking about the plot of this film. Tackling a plethora of different genres, all that don't feel very forced or unneeded, Paper Towns begins like any other young adult love story: guy meets girl, guy falls for girl, guy and girl share one passionate moment together...and then BOOM!, or should I say POOF!, girl vanishes into thin air. That's where the mystery element comes into play, with both hilarious and also quite underwhelming results. After we bypass the initial love-struck chapter in this film, it suddenly becomes something a lot more exciting, taking us out of the mind of our narrator (Quentin) for a while, and showing us the other sides of high school personalities. While the initial clue-hunting that ensues may be less elaborate than I had hoped, the personalities shown among the motley crew that goes out to find Margo play amazingly well into the next few genres the film explores. We all know about the coming-of-age stories, with their awkward phases and their emotional underlying message we all can relate to, and this film is no different. It's all about the main character, Quentin, the shy guy who discovers the journey may be more important than the destination, that chasing a mystery girl whom he barely knows may not be where his story ends. Even with its prominent mystery tale, Paper Towns is very much your typical coming-of-age story, this time exploring not just Quentin's progression from shy guy to fearless adventurer, but also the progression of the witty cast of characters that rally behind him. Oh, and yes, it involves a road trip.


On the subject of the cast, we have what you would expect from a film like this, the usual diverse gang of hip, young kids all banding together to solve the mystery of the mystery girl. As stereotypical as this gang of friends may be, they all still manage to deliver worthy and witty performances, even the characters we don't really care too much about. Leading the cast, we have Nat Wolff, who plays the charming shy guy Quentin who falls for the allusive Margo. Having gotten his start on the popular Nickelodeon series The Naked Brothers Band, and since starred in mostly supporting roles while he continued his music career, I was quite surprised to see Wolff take the spotlight this time in a leading role. A fan of his childhood career as the lovable musician who strove to be something more, I was happy to see him take on this interesting role, a role that he ultimately managed to make his own. Playing the typical cute nerd who breaks out of his shell to pursue his "dream girl", Wolff pulls off the role well, slipping out John Green's witty dialogue with the best charisma a shy guy could have. In the end, his chemistry with fellow lead Cara Delevingne might not have been perfect, but the witty dialogue between the two definitely made up for that.


Next, we have the mystical Cara Delevingne, the fashion model-turned-actress that steals the show in Paper Towns. Delivering a spunky yet overly mysterious performance as Margo, Delevingne was a pleasant surprise as she showed off a genuine teenage appeal that you usually wouldn't expect from a runway-walking model.  On the subject of model-turned-actresses, Hollywood has already made many models into top-tier stars, and others into moderately good supporting roles. Much like fellow models Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Cameron Diaz, and Olga Kurylenko, who have all had their share of film roles, Ms. Delevingne may be the next big model to take a turn for the better on the silver screen. Already up for roles in the upcoming fantasy adventure Pan, as well as the much-anticipated DC Comics film Suicide Squad, Delevingne may not be the most allusive and mysterious actress out there today, but she may very well be the one to watch soon enough. Very much an enigma throughout the film, with her sudden disappearance, we don't get much development from her character or her story, but that ultimately doesn't take much away from the entertaining tale.


As for the rest of the cast, we pretty much have your typical genuine teen cast, with all their usual clichés in tow. As witty and lovable as our two leads, the supporting cast, no matter their stereotypes, deliver adequate performances all around. From the nerdy comic relief (played by Austin Abrams) who ultimately wins the heart of the hot girl (played by Halston Sage) to the witty navigator who must learn how to navigate his way out of his own social shell (played by Justice Smith), Paper Towns may not offer up any monumental characters with amazing tales of adventure under their belt, but what it does deliver are some earnest, well-acted teen performances that ultimately feel relatable to the audience. We all have the one nerdy friend who fears the outside world, we all know the guy who overreacts over every little thing and calculates the risks, and there's always that hot girl who is smarter than she's made out to be. Paper Towns, which collects these personalities that we're typically familiar with in our youth into one fun-filled tale, knows who its audience is, and knows how to appeal to them.


Aside from the decent mystery plot and the witty cast, the music in the film was one of its most defining features. Much like every coming-of-age/young adult tale that hits theaters today, from Green's hit The Fault in Our Stars to such indie films as The Way, Way Back and The Kings of Summer, the sounds of summer are essential when making a fun-filled adventure such as this. Blasting out tunes from favorites like Vance Joy and Vampire Weekend, as well as other foot-tapping hits from Grouplove and The War On Drugs, Paper Towns rolled along elegantly as each scene had a new sound to pull you in for more. From the emotional scenes between Margo and Quentin to the whimsical road trip in search of the disappearing girl, one of the things that makes this film so memorable is its dynamic soundtrack.


Overall, the second John Green novel to make it to the screen is a worthy take on the teen romance genre, offering not only the usual lovey dovey stuff, but also an enthralling mystery that takes you deeper and deeper as you go along. A memorable flick in a summer of glossy blockbusters with big names and big action, Paper Towns shows us there's still hope for Hollywood as long as writers like John Green keep delivering fresh and witty stories like these. While it may not be a box-office monster like Jurassic World or Avengers, and isn't as comical as the towering comedies out there today, this witty little film offers more than meets the eye as it teaches us not to anticipate the destination as much, but instead enjoy the journey and the people you meet along the way.


I gave this film a 7 out of 10 for its successful mix of coming-of-age and mystery, its fantastic cast of genuine nerds and enigmas, and its awesome soundtrack that'll have you jammin' on it all summer. If you love John Green and his witty sarcasm, or you're a fan of books/films like the equally as witty Perks of Being a Wallflower or the depressing but lovable Fault in Our Stars, check out Paper Towns. Caution: May not be playing in a paper town near you...


Hey guys! How's your summer been? See any great movies lately? As the summer begins to wind down (unfortunately), I'm continuing to deliver as many movie reviews as I can to you. Stay tuned next week for my review of the latest Mission: Impossible film, which blew me and the box-office away with its awesome action and espionage. Also stay tuned for my breakdown of the top films you should see this Fall, from the return of bad-ass Johnny Depp to all the new and spooky films to see on Halloween night! 

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