Nutshell: Paper Town‘s plot feels cobbled together from every John Hughes film ever made, but with a dash of millennial ennui to make things “fresh”. That doesn’t work. Luckily, the talented cast of twenty-teen somethings do, making the shopworn story enjoyable. Grade: B
What is it: Paper Towns is a film based on a popular YA book from the guy who gave us The Fault in Our Stars. And as with Stars, Towns has a rabid following. The story here — about a guy whose senior year becomes interesting when the girl-across-the-door vanishes, leaving clues he follows to try to find her — is mostly a plot device for a teen road-trip/buddy tale.
Why should you see it: Enjoy YA? Enjoy films like Can’t Hardly Wait, Some Kind of Wonderful and Sixteen Candles? Don’t mind a pedestal girl who doesn’t seem worthy of the adoration? Then you’ll dig this film.
How do I feel about it: Meh. Paper Towns is a hipster/millennial rehash of all the usual teen clichés; the nerds that are awesome, the cool kids that hide a soft nerdy center, the rebel that isn’t that cool once the shine wears off, and of course the adults that never seem to mind that their kids vanish for days at a time. Director Jake Schreier (Robot & Frank) takes these tropes and manages to craft a story that’s fun to watch…when the focus is on Quentin (Nat Wolff) and his friends Radar (Justice Smith), Ben (Austin Abrams), Lacey (Halston Sage) and Angela (Jazz Sinclair). Unfortunately, Quentin’s object of adoration Margo, is not only aloof, she’s borderline sociopathic. Yes it’s funny when she plots revenge on those who have wronged her. But I couldn’t help but wonder what she’d turn into ten years later. You kids get off my lawn!
Speaking of kids, the ones here do an excellent job. Even Cara Delevingne, who tries to humanize Margo as best she can. The final scenes with Margo and Quentin allow Delevingne to unwrap the tightly wound character, and that ability to give a peek behind the facade makes me really look forward to seeing what she’ll do as Enchantress in Suicide Squad. Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber take Green’s story and shape it into something that plays well onscreen. And according to two lovely young ladies who were at the screening with me, the script does a good job following the book’s overall storyline. Bonus points for an ending that feels real, rather than Hollywood wish fulfillment.