Review: ‘Paper Towns’ Falls Short of Potential


Based off of John Green’s popular novel, “Paper Towns”‘s message is heartfelt but shallow.


Based off of John Green's popular novel, "Paper Towns"'s message is heartfelt but shallow.
Based off of John Green’s popular novel, “Paper Towns”‘s message is heartfelt but obvious.

The latest young adult mystery-romance film isn’t as deep as it wants to be. In “Paper Towns,” directed by Josh Boone, high school senior Quentin (Nat Wolff) gets a dose of serendipity when his crush Margo (Cara Delevingne) suddenly includes him in a nighttime revenge scheme. After she dramatically vanishes the next day, he sets out with his friends to find her. The movie is based on the eponymous novel by John Green.

The film uses Green’s signature honesty to create an enjoyable movie. Quentin and his friends, slumped in the band room wanting to attend a real party, remark that “if there’s a tuba there, it doesn’t count.” On the road to Margo, the group references their current English book and Quentin’s friend Radar (Justice Smith) confesses to his girlfriend that he actually “held a beer.” Also, Margo’s friend Lacey’s (Halston Sage) beauty queen pains are believable, if trite. Such candid scenes don’t feel manipulative or dramatic, making “Paper Towns” an inside joke to your average high schooler. Even if audience members haven’t gone on a 24-hour road trip to find their enigmatic crush, most teens have experienced alcohol and dusty literature and stereotypes. Naturally, countless other young adult films deal with similar issues such as “Boyhood,” but not with “Paper Town”‘s frank portrayal.

Yet this relatability isn’t enough at the movie’s crux. After a long drive up the East Coast fosters several bonding moments among Quentin’s crew, the exhausted seniors find neither hide nor hair of Margo. Her ex-bestie Lacey gives up, taking everyone but Quentin back home. Our somewhat spineless hero stays behind to search for his love. He succeeds, but realizes Margo is just an idea to him, a vessel for his romantic wants. On that note, Quentin heads home to his senior prom, choosing the real joy of friendship over illusory happiness with a girl he never truly loved. It’s a nice message, but “Paper Towns” scripts the scene too tightly, making its moral too shiny and obvious to swallow.

The actors, however, make up for their lackluster lines. Nat Wolff handles Quentin with a cheerful awkwardness, and his friends Radar and Ben (Austin Abrams) give some laughs and roundness to the group. Halston Sage solidly portrays Lacey as a snubbed popular girl. And Cara Delevingne imbues Margo with harsh ethereal mystery, the perfect girl for Quentin to project himself onto.

Ultimately, the film is not as moving as it wants to be; however, viewers can still enjoy “Paper Towns” as a cute teen film with a nice, fulfilling message, albeit a glaringly obvious one.