Heads up, everyone: The following review is going to contain spoilers, because I do not want you to see this movie.
“Paper Towns” is a film about Margo (fashion model Cara Delevingne), who is a narcissistic sociopath with severe eyebrows, though only one of those things is apparent at the beginning of the film. After largely ignoring her neighbor Quentin (Nat Wolff) for most of their teenage years, she breaks into his room one night to recruit him for a series of felonies, ranging from sexual harassment and breaking and entering, to destruction of property and simple assault. Her boyfriend has been cheating on her, so Margo decides to punish both him and the girl he is sleeping with, as well as one of his buddies and Margo’s own best friend, because what is revenge without a little collateral damage?
After an evening that was clearly supposed to seem more deep and meaningful than it actually was, Quentin goes to school the next morning to find that Margo is nowhere to be found. As days and weeks pass by, it becomes increasingly obvious that she is not coming back anytime soon. Margo’s parents are more annoyed than worried, mainly because — as stated earlier — Margo is a narcissistic sociopath, and she has done this before. But Quentin decides to make it his mission to find out where she went, because he is a teenager and therefore stupid, and therefore in love with Margo.
With the help of his friends Radar and Ben, Quentin follows a trail of obscenely obscure and difficult-to-follow clues that Margo has left behind and narrows her location down to Agloe, New York, a town that everyone in the film acknowledges does not actually exist (the name “Paper Towns” refers to fictional town names added to maps by cartographers to deter copyright infringement). Quentin and his friends then steal his mom’s van and travel from Orlando to upstate New York to track Margo down, only to discover that she did not actually want to be found in the first place.
As a film, “Paper Towns” is fine. It is a well enough paced film that is well acted and comes packaged with a lovely soundtrack. But all of that is just window dressing for a terrible story about a truly horrible “main” character. And while the film may think it is in some way speaking to the clearly incomprehensible difficulty of being a teenager, any message it is trying to convey fails to carry any weight, because the teens depicted in “Paper Towns” live in a consequence-free world. After the establishing scene of Margo being horrible to people she feels have wronged her, the entire night is blown off with a simple “I don’t see any cop cars. We did it!” and never spoken of again. And that is the leitmotif of the film: everything from missed tests at school to the outright theft of Quentin’s mom’s car is met with complete ambivalence by anyone who might be in authority. As Quentin and his friends — a van full of teenagers — are making their way out of Florida, we are shown Quentin on the phone with his mother, explaining “we’re just going to New York state, not New York City. It’s just for a couple of days.” And, as absolutely nobody in the world would expect, that phone call ends with “OK, I love you, too. Goodbye.” No matter what ridiculous, dangerous, potentially illegal thing these kids do, everyone is just fine with it. That, coupled with how atrocious of a character Margo is, combine to kill any potential “Paper Towns” ever had. CV