Let’s just say ‘Paper Towns’ is no ‘The Fault in Our Stars.’ That megahit tearjerker was driven by the brilliant performance of Shailene Woodley. This latest film is penned by the same screenwriting duo Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber that brought us ‘500 Days of Summer,’ ‘The Spectacular Now’ and ‘The Fault in Our Stars.’ Author John Green has become the Nicholas Sparks of the YA generation. His novels have a loyal teenage girl fanbase that cannot wait to see their favorite characters come to life on the big screen. ‘Paper Towns’ is not a bad film; it just isn’t a great one. ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ (still playing the arthouse theater circuit) is a wittier and more stylishly crafted teen drama. Forgive the pun but ‘Paper Towns’ is too paper thin to translate into a memorable film adaptation.
The term Manic Pixie Dream Girl was coined by writer Nathan Rabin as “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the feverish imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” It’s a patented brand of storytelling that lets the geek find enough self-confidence to get the hot girl in high school. In the case of ‘Paper Towns,’ that girl is Margo (Cara Delevingne). No doubt about it, Delevingne is easy on the eyes. She also happens to be a highly successful supermodel. The geek in question happens to be her nerdy neighbor Quentin (Nat Wolff). They were childhood friends growing up in a suburb of Orlando, Florida. When they reach high school, Quentin (“Q” to his friends) becomes a straight A student while Margo takes on a rebellious path and arguably the most desirable girl in school.
Quentin never really got over his crush on Margo. One fateful night, Margo climbs into Quentin’s bedroom window and asks for his help. She wants him to drive her around town in his mom’s van so she can wreak vengeance on her cheating quarterback ex-boyfriend. How can he possibly say no when she guarantees this will be the most exciting night of his life? The caper consists of spray paint, Saran Wrap and hair removal lotion. Margo is definitely not like the other girls as she capitalizes letters in the middle of words (liKe tHis) and she leaves the letter “M” like the mark of Zorro with spray paint. At the end of the night, Margo takes Quentin to a downtown office building with a majestic view of Orlando. It’s there that she spews lines like “I’m just a paper girl in a paper town.” The term paper town is a metaphor involving cartographers that create fake towns in their maps to prevent copyright infringement.
The next day, Quentin is beaming at school. He cannot wait to tell his buddies Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justin Smith) about his encounter with Margo and the chance at pining for her affection. The problem is that Margo never shows up to school. This is where the film turns into a mystery. Margo leaves behind a trail of clues that prompts Quentin to take a road trip to find her. The strange aspect of her disappearance is how lackadaisical her parents are to her running away. Quentin’s pals Ben and Radar accompany him on his quest as well as Radar’s girlfriend (Jaz Sinclair) and Margo’s former bestie Lacey (Halston Sage). The road trip feels rushed as they race off in the van and use Lacey’s credit card to buy junk food at a gas station. The clues lead them to a mythical town Agloe, New York that is a paper town created on a map. During the road trip, it’s a race to get back in time for the Senior Prom.
The premise of the movie is that the journey, as far as spending time with his best friends Ben and Radar, is the real reward before graduation. It’s also supposed to be a way for Quentin to break out of his comfort zone and experience life to the fullest. The problem is that Quentin has his life figured out already. He plans to go to Duke, become a doctor and start a family at the age of 30. Since he has his life mapped out, his character never seems to learn anything new about himself. It’s a cautionary tale of the dangers of mythologizing someone like that hot girl in school on a pedestal.
Delevingne is adequate in the lead role but it is obvious she is still evolving as an actress. She’s essentially playing a role that is close to her real life. She’s the hot girl in school that went off to New York City to become a successful supermodel. Wolff is likable as our protagonist but at times he is too smooth and not that geeky at all. ‘Paper Towns’ will find its teenage audience that is faithful to the John Green novel but may disappoint those looking for the next ‘Breakfast Club.’ Check out the official trailer https://youtu.be/rnjuh5dXk-g.