The Bock’s Office: ‘Paper Towns’ a low-key, likeable teen flick
If you’re familiar with the author of “Paper Towns,” you may be expecting the new film adaptation of the book to reach for the “Stars.” But, it doesn’t — it charts its own course, which upon watching the film, you’ll realize is just fine.
If you go…
“Paper Towns,” rated PG-13
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Running time: 109 minutes
Starring: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Halston Sage and Austin Abrams
Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.
It’s been a perfectly adequate life for high school senior Quentin Jacobsen (Nat Wolff), getting good grades and preparing for adulthood, all the while wondering if he’s been missing out on something amazing. The source of his uncertainty lives across the street in the form of classmate Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne), who’s always lived by her own rules and no one else’s.
Quentin has always pined for her, but it isn’t until late one night, when she climbs in through his bedroom window, that he really gets to know her, as she enlists his help checking off some people from a list of those in her inner circle who deserve some comeuppance.
The wild night leaves the lovestruck teen hopeful that Margo will finally start thinking of him as more than a friend, but in the days to come, she is nowhere to be found — a surprise to no one, considering her habit of disappearing for weeks at a time and coming back with no explanation.
However, Quentin is sure there’s something more to the vanishing act this time and sets about searching for clues to Margo’s location, ready to join her on her latest adventure, wherever or whatever it may be.
Like Richard Dreyfuss, in “American Graffiti,” the boys of “Superbad” or any of the multitude of characters desperately chasing a girl while on the cusp of manhood, Wolff has that combination of maturity and total innocence that you’d find in any given teenage nerd — someone who’s got their entire future charted out only to find out there may be more to life than doing exactly what’s expected of you.
As good as her costar is, Delevingne is a revelation as Margo, someone who has all the traits of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl — with quirks like capitalizing words in random places because society is unfair to the letters in the middle — yet transcends the simplicity of such a designation.
An enigmatic figure of the suburbs, Margo is the subject of many a school legend for her usually unexplainable exploits, all while simply not caring how she’s perceived. You don’t want to follow her just because it advances the plot — there is a need to figure her out.
Austin Abrams and Justice Smith do well as Ben and Radar, the lifelong buddies of Quentin — known to them as Q — the former a hapless seeker of a date to prom and the latter in a rich relationship, despite a refusal to introduce his girlfriend (Jaz Sinclair) to his parents, owners of a houseful of niche yuletide collectibles.
And you thought your folks were weird.
When a road trip becomes inevitable in the search for Margo, joining this crew is Halston Sage as Lacey, the missing girl’s ex-best friend and one of the victims of her late night farewell. It makes us wonder how tenuous female friendships are if one half of a pair of gal pals wants to get away from someone so badly with no explanation.
The title of John Green’s novel refers to a cartographic tactic of putting non-existent locations on a map for copyright purposes — a term our absentee heroine employs as a nihilistic assessment of the overall fakery of the world, or at least her city of Orlando.
A little harsh, but we’ll allow it.
Like last summer’s “The Fault in Our Stars” — also based on a Green book — this coming-of-age tale is perceptive in capturing the mindset of young adults. In this instance, the subject goes less deep, since it doesn’t approach something like mortality, but still keeps a solid narrative of kids breaking free of the constraints they’ve mostly set upon themselves in their own heads.
It’s not a new story by any means, particularly once this group hits the highway, but it’s one of the better entries in the genre of teens finding their identity, perhaps stronger, because the romantic angle is present without being the entire focus.
You may feel the need to look up the explanation of the namesake of “Paper Towns,” but the characters within aren’t so easily defined, and that’s what makes it an above-average watch. And, for those who still have “Fault in Our Stars” fever, know that a certain cameo will cure what ails you.
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