“Paper Towns” is a recent book-to-film adaptation, the novel of which was written by John Green (author of “The Fault in Our Stars”). Sitting idly in the teen romance dramedy genre, “Paper Towns” is not likely to achieve the same acclaim “The Fault in Our Stars” achieved due to the lack of depth and development to the characters or plot. What it does manage, however, is to inspire the start of something, to break free, and to expand horizons before it’s too late, but even that’s done almost halfheartedly, the substance of the message feeling as papery as the film’s title.
“Paper Towns” centers on the story of Quentin (Nat Wolff) as he tries to decipher clues left behind by his childhood friend Margo (Cara Delevingne) in order to find out where she disappeared to. Margo’s known for disappearing and for her thirst of adventure and mysteries, so it comes as no shock to those around her that she disappears yet again. But after a night exacting revenge on her friends who have wronged her with Quentin, he sees her disappearance as something more. Their friendship waned over the years leading up to high school, and during the last months of senior year, she reaches out to him to take part in these hijinks, pushing him out of his comfort zone, and leading him to believe things will be different between them the next day. Only, they aren’t, and Margo vanishes, leaving behind clues as to her whereabouts that only Quentin seems to want to decipher.
Quentin’s desire to find Margo becomes the main focal point of the film, and he becomes the only thing that develops. As a social outcast, an introvert and a planner, Quentin is someone who is forced far beyond his comfort zone in order to do something grander. He experiences things for the first time and doesn’t realize what he could have missed out on until he actually feels them. It’s a growth that Nat Wolff (“Admission”) captures and portrays well, leading him to be the star of a film muddled with over ambitious green actors who aren’t quite able to tap into the emotionally charged essence of teen drama. Quentin’s best friends Radar (Justice Smith) and Ben (Austin Abrams) are social outcasts themselves, but they don’t play them believably enough. Their character arcs also lack a certain wistful glory of their younger years in a film that really should be about coming of age and leaving behind moments of everlasting friendship as they teeter closer and closer to adulthood.
Margo is an enigma, and one that you desperately want to figure out, but are left with a sour taste when you finally do. Her character never really goes anywhere, and the only glimpses we really get of her are when she’s with Quentin. We don’t get another side of her; instead, we’re given a depiction of an egocentric rebellious girl who really doesn’t know where she fits in the world. We don’t see her caring for anyone other than herself, so the detachment from her friends in the beginning of the film seems pointless. When one of her friends Lacey (Halston Sage) gets involved in the search for her, we still get a glimpse of someone who wasn’t even that good of a friend. Margo doesn’t become someone who is relatable, nor does she become someone we care for. We end up getting the message she inadvertently delivers, but end up not liking her for the arduous journey we went on to receive it.
Overall, “Paper Towns” is stapled between a strong pile of potential and a shoddily adapted teen dramedy. Though the thought of finding yourself on the brink of adulthood is an enticing and engaging topic, the cast of characters we’re following along on this journey do nothing to inspire. It’s a sad result from a novel that really does touch upon themes of getting to know yourself in a world of constant public appeasement. Margo does represent that, but getting to know her character is laborious and leaves a dissatisfying papery taste lingering. Friendship and bonds also run rampant, but again, the characters that are given time to explore and showcase this just don’t do it well enough. Nat Wolff as Quentin seems to be the only substantial part of this film, and his relatability connects with the underlying themes. But “Paper Towns” as a whole should probably be shredded.
Final grade? C