Paper Towns Makes Perfunctory Perfect

Paper Towns is a callback to John Hughes, if John Hughes weren’t as profound or as candid. That’s not to say Paper Towns isn’t a good movie. Like the best of Hughes, it seamlessly blends comedy and drama, and it doesn’t settle for merely developing the two lead characters. The supporting players, the friends, often cast aside in coming-of-age stories or relegated to pure comedic relief, are thankfully given their time to shine here. This is a full-blooded portrait of high school Americana. It’s not the most original or the most unpredictable of stories, and its depiction of rebellion is lacking teeth and a particular pang of realism, but it’s fun in spite of all those things. Nat Wolff isn’t exceptional, but he’s believable through and through as Quentin, a boy pretending not to pine for the manic-pixie-dream girl across the street. Cara Delavigne does what she can with Margo, an underwritten role that mistakes mystery and random letter capitalization for character development. It’s Austin Abrams and Justice Smith as Quentin’s best friends who make the most indelible impressions, slowly revealing themselves to be so much more than “funny guy” and “shy guy” as the narrative unfolds. Ditto Halston Sage as Margo’s best friend who, much like the character itself, proves herself to be more than a pretty face. Paper Towns has more on its mind than coming of age circa 2015, for one a captivating mid-movie stretch of cross-state hide-and-seek, but also the seeming goal to subvert or deconstruct the myth of the “dream girl.” Not exactly a revolutionary idea post-Annie Hall and 500 Days of Summer, but an admirable if one-sided perspective on modern-day romance. One-sided because, like 500 Days before it, Paper Towns is told mostly from the point of view of the boy, not the girl. Nuggets of knowledge about Margo are tossed here and there, attempts at rendering her unique and unattainable without the ego that can accompany such characteristics. But these are perfunctory in the face of an enigma the plot is trying very hard to uphold. Romantic road trip antics are difficult to frown upon, especially when you’ve already grown so fond of these teenage adventurers, so Paper Towns gets a pass for those unoriginal parts due to the sheer number of smiles it produces on a regular basis. It doesn’t hurt that the soundtrack is ripe with new-80’s tunes, which brings us back to John Hughes. Director Jake Shreier (or maybe author John Green) must be a fan, so even though his film can’t hold a candle, I can’t hold a grudge against a movie that somehow, some way makes perfunctory perfect.

Grade: B

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