Dramedy: A high school senior and his friends use a series of clues left by his same-aged neighbor across the street in hopes of locating her after she disappears.
Quentin "Q" Jacobsen (NAT WOLFF) is a senior at an Orlando high school, with best friends in Ben Starling (AUSTIN ABRAMS) and Marcus "Radar" Lincoln (JUSTICE SMITH). But he's always wondered what happened to his friendship with Margo Roth Spiegelman (CARA DELEVINGE) who moved in directly across the street when both were young kids.
Now, they barely even acknowledge each other, what with her being the popular girl at their school. But that changes one night when she shows up in his bedroom, telling him she needs a getaway driver for nine wrongs she needs to right. Hearing that she's broken up with her boyfriend, Jase (GRIFFIN FREEMAN), for cheating on her, Q reluctantly agrees and spends the night helping pull off her revenge-based pranks.
The next day, however, she doesn't show up for school, and after a few days of that, he's concerned. Her parents believe she's just run away from home as she's done before. When Q spots an old Woody Guthrie poster in her window, though, he's certain that's the first in a series of clues she's left to help him find her.
His friends want to help, but only to a certain degree, what with Radar planning on losing his virginity to his girlfriend, Angela (JAZ SINCLAIR), all while the geeky Ben fantasizes about taking Margo's best friend, Lacey (HALSTON SAGE), who's recently broken up with her boyfriend, to prom.
Following that series of clues, Q comes to the conclusion that Margo is in New York in a so-called "paper town" -- a made up place on a map to thwart cartography plagiarism -- and convinces his friends, with Angela and Lacey joining them, to head off on a road trip to find her, as long as they can all get back to Orlando in time for the prom.
OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Many, many moons ago when the only true ways of communicating with others was face to face, via the telephone, or by letter, I remember talking to a friend about trying to decipher what girls truly meant, in a romantic sense, by means of their communication.
Face to face was obviously the best, as body language added another layer of communication, while a telephone call obviously lacked those visual cues, thus leaving vocal inflection as the only added element for such detective work. Letter writing, of course, was open the most to interpretation, and I explicitly recall trying to "read between the lines" in hopes of discerning the true intent of what was being said, and whether any clues, purposeful or not, were hidden somewhere in there indicating how those girls really felt about yours truly.
Quentin "Q" Jacobsen similarly believes that Margo Roth Spiegelman is leaving him clues, not only indicating, in general, about how she might feel about him, but also, specifically, signaling where she might have run off to. They're the possible lovebirds in "Paper Towns," the filmed adaptation of John Green's young adult novel of the same name from 2008.
Rather than being discovered via in-person encounters, talks over the phone or in some form of writing, however, her clues are scattered among various mediums, are cryptic at best, and have Q's sleuthing-meets-possible romance juices flowing. You see, the two (played here by Nat Wolff and Cara Delevinge) grew up across the street from each other and were childhood "partners in crime." As often is the case, however, they grew apart as they grew up.
Not that he wanted or intended it to be that way, but while he stayed somewhat in the nerd class populated by his best and more nerdier friends, Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith), she became the popular girl in school.
Despite them rarely even making eye contact anymore, she shows up in his bedroom one night out of the blue, says she has nine wrongs to right (in terms of her boyfriend and friends betraying her) and needs a "getaway driver" to assist in her bit of mischievous revenge. He's reluctant, as he doesn't want to get into trouble, but upon hearing her boyfriend is now her ex, he jumps at the chance.
In doing so, he lives for the first real time in his life, and she informs him that's how the rest of his existence should play out. And then she disappears, with her parents believing she's run away for the fifth time. But when he spots an odd Woody Guthrie album cover pic in her window (that wasn't there before), he swears it's a sign for him, and he starts looking for those clues. And he gets his friends, along with one's girlfriend (Jaz Sinclair) and Margo's best friend (Halston Sage) to come along on the "hunt."
Green's book has been adapted by scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (who previously collaborated on "The Spectacular Now" and "The Fault in Our Stars"), and it's a work of adolescent romantic fantasy as mixed with a coming of age story, sometimes a crass, gross-out comedy, an eventual road trip adventure, and an introspective piece about how to lead one's life.
The mixture of those varied elements doesn't always come together as smoothly or imaginatively as intended, but director Jake Schreier gets some decent mileage out of the individual pieces. But just when it seems like it's going to gel and turn into something remarkable, it jerks over into another style and the magic evaporates, only to build and then dissipate again and again.
The performances are generally good, with it being nice to see some of the characters evolve out of what initially appears will be ball and chain type stereotypes designed to easily demo their character types, but which sometimes unnecessarily keep them as one-note creations. Thankfully, that's not the case here.
That said, those looking for amazing insight into the teen experience or any sort of deep emotional connection to the characters might be disappointed there isn't such depth in play. But while I'm fairly far removed from the target demographic (that likely has rarely, if ever, written a letter to someone they're attracted to), I found "Paper Towns" engaging and entertaining enough to warrant a slight recommendation. It scores as a 5.5 out of 10.