Paper Towns, based on the 2008 novel by John Green, is the story of Quentin Jacobsen (Nat Wolff) and his unrequited love for the mysterious Margo Roth Spiegelman ( Cara Delevingne).
Quentin and Margo became childhood friends after Margo moved in across the street. Nine years after their childhood friendship drifted apart, Margo climbs through Quentin’s window and convinces him to join her on a night of revenge against her cheating boyfriend and her friends who knew about it. The next day, Margo mysteriously disappears. Days later, Quentin finds clues Margo left behind and heads on a road trip from Orlando to New York with his two friends Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith), Radar’s girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair), and Margo’s best friend Lacey (Halston Sage).
Paper Towns is problematic from the start. Not only are the main characters extremely unlikable, the best character, Margo, isn’t in 80% of the movie. That’s like showing up to a Cleveland Cavaliers game and watching Lebron James play in the first 3 minutes of the game, and the last 3 minutes of the game. Nat Wolff and the supporting cast are perfectly fine actors, they’re just not given much to do besides act like the most annoying teenagers on Earth. Lots of giggling, lots of laughing, and 101 stupid conversations about life.
Scott Neustadter’s screenplay is stuffed with lines that have teenagers talking like adults. I don’t know if it’s an attempt to add emotional weight to scenes like the one where Radar tells Angela “I’m not afraid of you, I’m afraid of losing you.” WHAT? He’s 17 year old senior in high school. Why is Radar talking like he’s about to propose? Not only does that scene not need any manufactured emotion, it doesn’t even need to be in the film at all. There’s no reason to care about Radar, his girlfriend, or the future of their relationship.
I don’t even want to get into how improbable it would be for Quentin to find ALL those clues that point to Margo’s location or how he got back to Orlando in time for prom on a Greyhound bus. As someone who just watched robots time travel in Terminator Genysis, the most improbable thing I’ve seen in film all year is Margo’s friend Lacey asking Ben to prom. This would never happen in a million years. Never! It wouldn’t happen if Ben was the last man on Earth and Margo lost her sense of sight and smell. Seriously, this would only happen if Make-A-Wish was involved. Ben and Lacey’s love interest is so necessary. Just like Radar and Angela, nobody following the story is invested in this relationship.
The biggest issues hovering over Paper Towns is its boring characters and the group’s entire journey being pointless. There’s a scene where the kids make a stop at a gas station and run around like a bad episode of Supermarket Sweep, grabbing snacks while a Radar voice-over goes on and on about how much time they have. They act like they’re a NASCAR pit crew. YOU’RE GASSING UP A MINIVAN, CALM DOWN!. The entire sequence is pointless to the point that it’s exhausting to watch. It doesn’t stop there, the movie continues to deliver more of those garbage moments until the credits role.
Did I mention how unlikeable the kids are? Everyone single one of them has a punchable face. These “good” kids all skip school and home life to drive to New York and nobody has family that cares where they went. Not to mention they’re all following a guy who’s freakishly obsessed with a girl he hasn’t spoken to in 9 years. Sounds like a stalker to me.
The story is book-ended by Margo’s mysterious personality and her trip to New York that’s shrouded in secrecy. Her character is given this unattainable tag the entire movie, but the film cheapens her persona with an unwarranted kiss at the end. They found a way turn the only interesting character in the movie into just another high school girl in 30 seconds. There was nothing special about Margo. Quentin is just her Peeping Tom neighbor who decided to follow her to New York.
Paper Town is a movie where literally nothing happens. Nothing happens on the road trip. Nothing memorable happens between the characters. There’s no big takeaway for the main character at the end. Margo doesn’t have a big reveal. Everyone seems to be okay with Quentin stalking his neighbor. And even his mom seems ok with him taking the only family car for 5 days.
According to the movie, Paper Towns are not real towns, just names of places on map. That’s fitting because Paper Towns is not a real movie, just names and faces on a screen.