Director: Jake Screier
Starring: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Halston Sage, Cara Buono, Tom Hillman
Rated: PG-13 (some language, drinking, sexuality and partial nudity – all involving teens)
After an all night adventure, Quentin’s life-long crush, Margo, disappears, leaving behind clues that Quentin and his friends follow on the journey of a lifetime.
By Cole Schneider
Paper Towns follows a nerdy high school senior named Q, who for one night gets mixed up with the mysterious girl next door. The first part of the film chronicles their night of vengeful-debauchery as he helps her get back at old friends who’ve betrayed her. It’s a reasonable enough rom-com beginning in theory. Then it shifts into a mystery as the girl disappears, leaving clues behind for Q to find. Eventually it turns into an ensemble road trip movie as Q’s friends join him in the search.
This genre progression keeps the pacing fairly swift, but the road trip element is the only one that works. Largely this is because the girl isn’t present. With her character (poorly conceived, poorly written, poorly acted) out of the way the remaining cast actually has a pretty good time. Until the end that is, as the whole narrative–a casual retelling of Moby Dick–gets confused in favor of becoming a soluble teen film.
In this version the mysterious great whale (the girl) is neither truly mysterious nor in any way great and Captain Ahab (Q) never experiences the existential emptiness that is essential to his character and the narrative. No, instead Moby Dick is reduced to a device, much like its own silly title repeatedly beaten into our brains by the uneven screenplay. There are positives, including Nat Wolff’s central performance. I will be happy to see him in a better movie one day. His conviction that the girl is interesting is almost enough to overlook the fact that she isn’t interesting in any way.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
By Matt Greene
Maybe I’m getting old. These over-serious, platitude-filled teen dramas used to only mildly annoy me. Now, with Paper Towns, I feel myself getting irrationally angry at its desperate plea to be this generation’s The Breakfast Club. From where is that resentment coming? Maybe it’s that I’m a 30-year-old married-father who’s not meant to like this movie. Maybe it’s that I’m coming off the high of the teen drama Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Whatever it is, Paper Towns irritated much more than it charmed.
The premise has potential: nerd spends one magically frivolous night with the enigmatic girl of his dreams, Margot, before she inexplicably disappears. Instead of being unique, stylish, or progressive, it becomes the lament of the rich-white-teen and the manic pixie dream girl. Our “hero” is drawn to her magnetic mystery, but that appeal never reaches the audience. At times, she represents an idea more than a character, but mostly she’s an unbearably selfish, manipulative shrew, using her womanly wiles to get whatever she needs. When she’s off-screen, the interplay between the friends is watchable, but her bothersome presence is never far away. Worst yet, in the end PT never takes a stance on Margot, like the movie is trying to have its cake and eat it too.
Stylistically, the movie is forcefully quirky, annoyingly cutesy, and boasts a soundtrack that’s like someone pushed the “hipster” button on a Casio Keyboard. We can only blame director Schreier, whose previous film was the under-seen Robot and Frank. Just stay home and watch that, a story about a machine with more humanity than anyone in PT.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 Stars