Paper Towns: Appealing Cast Elevates Standard Teen Romance

A young, charming cast, headed by Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, and Austin Abrams, makes the new teen romance, Paper Towns, a much more likable and experience than it has the right to be based on its thin and familiar plot, or rather shallow (or not too deep) ideas and characters.

Grade: B- (** out of *****)

Wolff plays Quentin, a shy and uptight high-school senior, who is contrasted with Margo (Cara Delevigne), who is his free-spirited classmate.  Both are screen types we know, beginning as opposites only to move closer to each other as the tale progresses.

Adapted from a young-adult novel by John Green, Paper Towns, a notch or two below The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns doesn’t amount to much.  It’s the kind of film I liked as an adolescent.  And I always remind harsh critics never to forget that, at one point, Debbie Reynolds and Sandra Dee, were the most popular box-office stars. In other words, this film is meant for very young and not particularly discriminating viewers.

Quentin Jacobson has been intrigued (to say the least) for Margo Roth Spiegelman ever since she moved into his Orlando subdivision, when they were young children.

More serious and ambitious than kids his age, Quentin centers on his studies and planning his future, while Margo becomes an eccentric but well-liked girl. You cannot fault a young woman who collects vinyl, if she also reads poems by Walt Whitman.  (How many kids can even recognize Whitman’s name?)

Turning point in their interaction occurs when Margo breaks into Quentin’s bedroom–at night (when else?), suggesting all kinds of wild adventures.  We learn that she still holds grudges against her former boyfriend, who was cheating and needs some help, but for some reason, Quentin mistakes her initiative as the beginning of courtship, if not passionate romance.

Soon after this encounter, which is also fatal and/or fateful in such literature, Margo disappears, but she does make a point to leaving behind some mysterious clues, such as lines of poetry, old maps, bizarre graffiti.

Joining Quentin on his quest for Margo are his friends Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith), both expectedly bright and nerdy.

Was Margo’s just manipulative? Did she display bi-polar (passive-aggressive) symptoms of behavior? What motivated her? And, of course, where is she now?

Following generations of bold and aggressive female stars (Stanwyck, Katharine Hepburn, Carol Lombard, Marlene Dietrich seducing the likes of the young and shy Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, and Jimmy Stewart) Margo is eccentric all right, a vivacious, knowing, even pragmatic girl, who can teach the shy, insecure, and inexperienced Quentin a lesson or two about love and life.

Directed in impersonal but functional mode by Jake Schreier, Paper Towns works its charm mostly through the charismatic performances, especially from Wolff, who projects real innocence and sharp intelligence, which many boys of his age would be able to relate too, and many girls should find enticing enough to pursue him.



MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Running time: 109 Minutes