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Movie Review: #PaperTowns

Don't expect Paper Towns to be anything more than merely enjoyable teen dramedy.

Review by Matt Cummings

In Director Jake Schreier's Paper Towns, we drop into the world of high school seniors Quentin (Nat Wolff) and Margo (Cara Delevingne), both of whom seem to be going in two different directions. The cautious Quentin - who has his life planned out - is off to Duke to become a doctor, while his neighbor and long-time crush Margo lives a life of late-night sneak-outs from her Orlando home. After a night of revenge against her ex-boyfriend and those who knew about his cheating, Margo disappears for good, leaving Quentin and his friends Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith) to figure out where she went. Soon, the trio discover a series of clues pointing to her whereabouts, which takes them to a real-life paper town. There, Quentin must decide if the flighty and bored Margo is worth re-directing his plans, at the cost of his friendships and future.

If this sort of teen angst sounds familiar, that's because Towns is based on a book by The Fault in Our Stars author John Green, who also serves as Executive Producer. And while it's got a lot going for it, there's several missteps that keep it from becoming this generation's version of The Breakfast Club. Although it's likely that a confused teen will suddenly hop a bus to discover themselves in Upstate New York (because everything happens in Upstate), it's unlikely that she would be able to sustain herself before empty pockets and stomachs would draw her back. And while I really liked Wolff - he has a bright future as a likable leading man - Delevingne's frankly stark look never worked for me. She and Wolff enjoy decent chemistry, but ultimately I came to hate their banter, the one infatuated with the other without really knowing why. Perhaps an eyebrow job might be in order for Delevingne, but it's unlikely my opinion would improve.

It's also hard to accept that Towns never really achieves anything except for the destruction of Margo's growing mythos among her colleagues and in Quentin's eyes. As news of her disappearance spreads, she's eventually imagined all over the country including a starring role on Broadway and as a surf instructor in California. But in the end, we learn that Margo is much less than the sum of her parts: she's just a disillusioned girl who doesn't know what she wants but thinks leaving clues to her whereabouts is somehow cooler than actually telling anyone. As her parents tell police near the beginning, "Margo is bored. She'll come back when she isn't." Nice.

Towns is definitely a "journey, not the destination" kind of film but there's not enough growth among the young and excellent troupe to warrant our attention. They look for Margo. The find Margo. They yell at each other. They return to enjoy prom. Scheirer's sometimes mis-direction is aided by a wayward adaption by Writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who extend a few sequences too long. It's clear they want to spend time unraveling this little neighborhood of privileged Orlando, but end up prepping too long for the journey before actually getting there. And once that's done, our heroes are no better (or different) for it.

And yet, John Green films make money, so it's likely that middle-class youths will flock to fill his pockets once again, but you'd be better off recommending Dope, Macfarland USA, or The DUFF. Towns clearly has its moments - including a great electronic score by Ryan Lott and a fun selection of songs by various artists and a nice cameo - but it might be best taken in as a rental. At that point, throw in The Breakfast Club instead and show your kids what real teen cinema looks like.

Paper Towns is rated PG-13 for teen language, drinking, sexuality and partial nudity and has a runtime of 109 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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