Following “The Fault in Our Stars,” this is the second screen adaptation of a John Green novel for Young Adults – and a bit of a disappointment in comparison with the first. Quentin “Q” Jacobsen (Nat Wolff) has been infatuated by Margo Roth Spiegelman (Brit supermodel Cara Delevingne), ever since her family moved in across the street when he was nine years-old. By they get to high school, eccentric Margo has her own cool clique, barely acknowledging geeky Q in the corridor. Read on…
Then, one night, near the end of their senior year, Margo crawls into his bedroom window, asking him to drive her around their hometown of Orlando, Florida, to wreak revenge on friends who have betrayed her. After that exhilarating escapade, rebellious Margo mysteriously disappears.
Enlisting two nerdy buddies – Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith) – Q is determined to find Margo, who conveniently leaves clues to her whereabouts. Eventually, Q realizes Margo has gone to Algoe in upstate New York, one of the ‘paper towns’ she told him about.
FYI: ‘Paper towns’ is a term used by mapmakers who put non-existent places on their maps to ensure copyright protection.
Q convinces his friends, along with Radar’s girl Angela (Jaz Sinclair) and Margo’s BFF Lacey (Halston Sage), to make a 1,200-mile road trip to Algoe, promising to get them back home in time for prom.
Adapted by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber and directed by Jake Schreier (“Robot and Frank”), it’s conventionally plotted and overly contrived, emphasizing themes of taking risks and developing your own perspective by delineating the disconnect between Q’s image of Margo and her image of herself. But that’s all too anticlimactic.
There are some quirky, appealing moments – like Radar’s parents’ collection of black Santas and a timely commentary on a T-shirt with the Confederate flag. Ansel Elgort (“The Fault in Our Stars”) does a cameo as a gas station cashier.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Paper Towns” is a formulaic 5, appealing primarily to pre-teens or those who have never seen John Hughes’ angst-riddled comedic dramas.