Sunday, July 26, 2015

Review: Paper Towns

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
"Paper Towns" is the type of the film that stumbles during its first half, but manages to recover during its second. There has been a glut of well-made movies about youths during the past few years that includes a few great ones - including "Adventureland," "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and "The Spectacular Now" - and a handful of good ones - for example, the decent "The Fault in Our Stars" and "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl."

The thing that especially worked about those aforementioned titles is that they are films about teens that can also be appreciated by adults. During its first half, I was under the impression that "Paper Towns" was the type of film made solely for teens. On the one hand, it manages to capture the awkward behavior and speech that marks adolescence and, on the other hand, the film does so in a manner that comes off as slightly... awkward.

The picture follows one of those stories about a somewhat dorky, but likable, young man who realizes his best self thanks to the pretty - but quirky, mind you - girl who sees something in him that others do not. I know, this is a tired premise that recently failed to engage in Cameron Crowe's "Aloha."

In this case, the girl is Margo (model Cara Delevingne) and the awkward young man is Quentin (Nat Wolff), two teens who live in Orlando, which is portrayed here as mostly posh neighborhoods and towering buildings. As the film opens, Quentin tells us via voice over that he and Margo were childhood pals, but that she became a popular girl (but with mystique!) when they reached high school.

Now, as their senior year begins to wind down, Quentin is paid a surprise late night visit by Margo, who wants him to join her on a nine-step revenge plot that goes down in the course of a night. During their adventure, she gets back at a cheating boyfriend and a few friends who do not pass muster. Then, suddenly, Margo has disappeared - as in, run off.

Quentin enlists help from his band buddies, Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith), as well as a popular girl, Lacey (Halston Sage) who is friends with Margo, and Radar's girlfriend, Angela (Jaz Sinclair), and they hit the road, traveling to upstate New York in Quentin's van to find Margo, whom Quentin believes has left him clues to track her down. As is always the case in such movies, the story does not pay much mind to the parents, especially during the slightly unbelievable road trip.

And yet, "Paper Towns" finally finds its rhythm about halfway through as the quintet takes its journey. While the culmination of the journey reveals truths that are not so profound, the camaraderie among the cast members works and a finale set at a prom (where else?) brings nice closure to the story.

The film is based on the novel by "Faults in Our Stars" author John Green and both this film and the adaptation of that other novel capture the teenage experience fairly well, even though both rely heavily on cliches (road trips, a cancer-based melodrama, the mysterious girl next door, etc.). So, while "Paper Towns" isn't on the level of some of the other youth films as of late, it's not half bad.

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