Paper Towns (2015) Movie Review: Another Young Adult Novel Turned into a Mediocre Film

Drinking Game

Take a Drink: each time there is a voice-over by Quentin.

Take a Drink: each time you see Margo’s bushy eyebrows.

Take a Drink: each time you see a spray-painted “M”.

Do a Shot: whenever a character says “Paper Towns.”

Shotgun a Beer: as you watch the six-minute gas station scene.

Community Review

How many beers do you recommend for this movie?
1 Beer! A Toast! Great Movie!2 Beers! Good Movie!3 Beers! Okay Movie!4 Beers! Mediocre Movie!5 Beers! Awful Movie!6-Pack! Bad movie! Do not be Sober!

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Movie Review

By: Amelia Solomon (Three Beers) –

Paper Towns is a film based on the young adult novel of the same name.  It’s the second book by author John Green to be adapted to the big screen.  The screenplay was penned by writing partners Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber who also adapted Green’s critically acclaimed novel The Fault in Our Stars.  Set in Orlando, Florida, the film follows awkward dork Quentin “Q” Jacobsen (Nat Wolff), who pines for his next door neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne).  Once childhood friends, the two grew apart as they became older.  Margo is a mysterious girl who is popular, and Quentin no longer knows her.  Until one evening when Margo sneaks into Quentin’s bedroom, like they used to do as children, and begs him to accompany her on a night of revenge pranks.

Because nothing says living on the edge like shopping after midnight!
Because nothing says living on the edge like shopping after midnight!

It’s not important why Margo is seeking vengeance or to whom.  What matters is Quentin gets to spend time with Margo after all these years.  Amazed by their evening together, he thinks everything will be different the next day.  But to his dismay, Margo is missing.  Quentin believes Margo wants him to find her, and he sets out to unearth clues to discover her whereabouts, with the help of his two best friends and Margo’s best friend, as well.

I smell a road trip.  Sorry, wrong movie!
I smell a road trip. Sorry, wrong movie!

A Toast

If just viewing the trailer alone, Paper Towns seems like it will be an off-beat mystery.  But the mystery is barely existent, and at the heart of the film is a coming of age story.  Quentin’s best friends, Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith) are also outcasts and unpopular.  They hate high school and are looking forward to graduating and moving on.  But they’re all scared to leave the world they know behind, and embark on new lives.  Paper Towns nails the pre-college jitters and emotions that most high school seniors have about leaving the only world they’ve known and abandoning their safety net of best friends.

Don't worry.  Your college friends will be just as awesome.
Don’t worry. Your college friends will be just as awesome.

In the film, Radar is a band geek but he does have a girlfriend.  Despite this being a very minor storyline in the film, the peculiarities that surround a first relationship are depicted brilliantly.  Radar is embarrassed to bring his girlfriend around his friends and his family for fear that they might embarrass him.  He’s also whole-heartedly devoted to his girlfriend and a completely different person around her than he is around Ben and Quentin.  It’s these scenes in the film that are the most truthful.

Because Prom is everything.   Wait, what? It is 2015 right?
Because Prom is everything. Wait, what? It is 2015, right?

Paper Towns is not really about a love story, and therefore it’s not overly dramatic or weepy.  It’s also not a teen comedy, but that didn’t mean there weren’t a few laughs.  For a film based on a young adult novel, I was surprised at how many times I did chuckle.  The main source for the humor came from Quentin’s best friends Ben and Radar.  There’s an ongoing joke about Radar’s parents who have over 1,000 black Santas because they want to be in The Guinness Book of World Records.  In another scene, Radar has to wear a t-shirt with the Confederate flag on it.  The joke would have been funny regardless, but its timeliness can’t be ignored.  Ben, as the runty pipsqueak of the group, is also responsible for many jokes.  There is a great scene where he has to pee in the back of a minivan during the film’s road trip and must improvise.

I already ordered mine on Amazon.
I already ordered mine on Amazon.

The soundtrack for Paper Towns also deserves recognition.  The songs are all indie pop and some are by well-known artists like Santigold and Vampire Weekend.  Others are unknowns, but they all work to highlight the scenes in the film and sometimes they become more noticeable than the scene itself, which made me realize that the music in the film is one of its strong points.  In fact, it is reminiscent of Garden State, but in this case the music might be more memorable than the film.

Paper Towns on vinyl or how Hipsters will get laid.
Paper Towns on vinyl ,or how Hipsters will get laid.

Beer Two

Nat Wolff, who plays Quentin, has acted in many films prior to Paper Towns, including The Fault in Our Stars.  He is cringe-worthy and awkward in almost every scene.  The character of Quentin is supposed to be geeky, but I found Wolff’s portrayal grating.  Wolff makes Quentin too dorky and too strange.  I love an outcast, but they have to be likable.  The naivety that Wolff brings to his character seems too much at times, and makes him impossible to relate to.

Hey Nat.  Lose the jacket and call me in ten years.
Hey Nat. Lose the jacket and call me in ten years.

Beer Three

Cara Delevingne is a fashion model, not an actress.  She may be transitioning her way into the world of acting, but her acting credits are sparse.  The character of Margo, who she plays, is mostly an enigma and therefore doesn’t need a lot of depth.  In that case, Delevingne gives a competent performance.  But that also may be the problem, because there is no concrete reason why Quentin is in love with her and why everyone at school likes her, too.  Besides the obvious, which is that she is beautiful.  This whole idea is a problem in itself, and this is the main driving force of the film.  Quentin is in love with Margo and when she disappears, he must find her.  But it is unbelievable.  For decades, films have had an eccentric female character that the male lead barely knows, but is in love with her so much so that they are obsessed.  It is a weak plot point and an even weaker thing to base an entire film on.  Which inevitably leads to the female character saying the line, “You don’t know me,” and which Paper Towns falls victim to.

Because runway models are always also the girl next door.
Because runway models are always also the girl next door.

Verdict

Paper Towns is not the best coming of age film by any means.  There is so much to potentially explore, but instead the film relies on character cliches and shallow teen angst.  Any areas of depth are merely glossed over.  But its innocence, humor, and sweetness make it a watchable film.

I had this growing up. You have Paper Towns. Seems fair.

3beers

About Amelia Solomon

Forever mystified by 80's flick, "Just One of the Guys", it was only a natural progression that I'd end up reviewing films for MovieBoozer. I reside in Los Angeles, where I spend my time critiquing films and TV shows and writing television scripts . Feel free to comment on my reviews. Movieboozer is a humor website and drinking games are intended for entertainment purposes only, please drink responsibly.

2 comments

  1. Yeah I’ve been tunning out to the soundtrack this weekend and its making me curious to see it. Bummed that it’s largely meh, but fantastic review. I as a whole have faith in Nat Wolff’s career, he’s shown he can act in smaller flicks like Palo Alto and Stuck in Love.

    • Thanks Matt! Yes, definitely recommend the soundtrack, film not so much. I agree Wolff did seem to work well in Palo Alto. Also great point about Paper Towns lacking a star, like If I Stay and Fault in our stars in your box-office report. I caught and reviewed If I Stay last year and it did have more depth.

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