Nat Wolff is Quentin, an Orlando, Florida A-student just weeks away from graduation. His childhood crush, Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne), lives across the street but they haven’t spoken in nine years. He’s a nerd, she’s an exotic beauty who looks like she just walked out of a Victoria Secrets catalogue—because, in real life, Delevingne was a VS model—and he still loves her. One night, out of the blue, she appears and asks a favour with her husky voice, like a young Brenda Vaccaro.
“I have nine things to do tonight, and I need a get-a-way driver.”
It’s a mission of revenge against her cheating boyfriend and BFFs who have betrayed her. “It’s a night to right some wrongs and wrong some rights,” she tells him. “Basically it will be the best night of your life.”
Among other things they cloak a car in Saran Wrap, complete with a note that reads “That’s a wrap on our friendship,” and share a quick tender moment. The next morning, she’s gone.
Her parents are unconcerned. “She’s not missing,” says her mother, “she’s gone. There’s a difference. She’ll come back when people stop talking about her.”
Quentin isn’t so sure, and soon begins to find clues Margo left behind. Convinced she wants him to find her, he becomes a teenage Columbo, piecing together a series of obscure clues that would give Sherlock Holmes a headache. The clues lead him and a car load of friends (Halston Sage as Lacey, Austin Abrams as Ben, Justice Smith as Radar and Jaz Sinclair as Angela) to a tiny “paper town” (a fictional place on a map used by cartographers as copyright protection) in New York State.
Whether or not Quentin finds her is irrelevant. It’s the journey, not the destination that counts. Margo is the McGuffin, an impossible pixie dream girl who, despite reading Walt Whitman and being the only millennial who knows who Woody Guthrie is, is the least interesting part of the story. She exists simply to put everything in motion.
Is the journey worth your time and money? Sure, if you consider pop psychology like, “You have to get lost to find yourself,” to be a deep insight to the human condition. It rides the line between existential teen drama and the above-mentioned mishmash of styles (coming-of-age-mystery-love story-road trip-romance) that never exactly dins its tone. For a movie whose mantra is, “Take a risk,” it certainly plays it safe with the storytelling.
Keeping that in mind, “Paper Towns” is populated with likeable, compelling characters. Delevingne is a charismatic catalyst, and the trio of boys have the genuine chemistry of friends who have “known one another since they were foetuses.” They bring the material to life, breathing life into a story that is simultaneously overwritten and under realised.