Paper Towns Movie Review: Real friendships Live There, Making it Worth a Trip

Paper Towns appears to be a fairly conventional Indie teen romance with a bit of mystery.  Is it more? If so, why?  The film is based on a novel by John Green who wrote The Fault in Our Stars, so it has a lot to live up to as a second translation from page to screen.

Quentin, (Nat Wolff), and Margo (Cara Delevingne) were friends as kids.  As high school seniors, they’re not. he’s a band geek and she’s the prom queen. Until one night she climbs into his bedroom and enlists him for vengence pranks against the friends she feels betrayed her. Of course he plays her wingman, since he’s been in love with her since the day they met.  after a crazy night of adventure, he comes to school to find she’s disappeared.

Using clues she’s left behind, He attempts to find her, with the help of his closest pals Ben and Radar, who, with him, are like the high school goober version of Charlie’s Angels.  They make a wonderful team in the mystery Margo becomes with her abrupt departure.


Seeing Q crushing on someone who borders on being a mean girl separated me from the conflicted teen angst meant to connect me with the movie.  It is with the introduction of Ben and Radar that what starts out seeming like a vacuous and average coming-of-age indie romance turns into something more affecting and meaningful.  As Margo, supermodel Delevingne captures perfectly the confused free spirit whose enigmatic qualities make her seem more than she is.  It’s nice that Radar, (played by Justice Smith) a character of color, is actually the strongest voice of reason and honesty.  As Ben, Austin Abrams is delightful as the gangly mess of false bravado and highstrung hope.  Secondary characters Lacey (Halston Sage) and Angela (Jaz Sinclair) add variety beyond the pedestaled high school madonna Margo represents.   None of the characters are just what they seem on the surface, although in this script neither do they entirely subvert cliched teen stereotypes.

“Not what they seem” was done to near perfection in The Breakfast Club, and Paper Towns also has the unfair disadvantage of coming out right after the wonderful coming-of-age dramedy, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, my favorite film of the year so far. 

Paper Towns refers to the names given by cartographers to fake places, to flag when their maps and atlases are copied illegally.  This is not the deepest movie you’ll ever watch on teenage self discovery but it certainly isn’t just some bit of fluffy fakery, such as those created by those map makers.  It offers those at the threshold of adulthood the potential for reflection on love and friendship, and adult viewers a nostalgic look back on childhood friendship and that ghostlike weird and wonderful crush we all have clanking around in our memories.  Whether for looking forward or looking back, Paper Towns is worth the trip.