Cara Delevingne’s already vast film career has left behind nothing all that memorable thus far. Her eighth–yes, eighth–effort as an actress is yet another adaptation of one of YA author John Green’s books (the previous being The Fault in Our Stars), which is somewhat telling of her aptitude in the field. Yes, it’s easy to look moody as a model, but this doesn’t generally translate that well to the silver screen (just look at Gisele Bündchen in Taxi or Tyra Banks in Life-Size).
Perhaps screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (both of whom also wrote The Fault in Our Stars and The Spectacular Now, a film with a similarly YA bent) had this in mind when envisioning the character for Margo Roth Spiegelman, who appears very minimally in the story so as to create this sort of mythical legend surrounding her disappearance.
Quentin “Q” Jacobsen (Nat Wolff, another The Fault in Our Stars alum) narrates the story from the vantage point of his isolated existence after initially befriending Margo when she first arrived in Orlando as a child. While they started off thick as thieves–bonded together by the sighting of a man who had killed himself–they slowly drift apart as Quentin’s cautiousness appeals less and less to Margo’s adventure-seeking ways. By the time senior year of high school rolls around, Q has all but discarded the notion that Margo will ever acknowledge him again. But alas, she does one night just as Q is falling asleep. She asks to borrow his mom’s car and if Q will drive her where she needs to go. They start at a Costco-esque location, picking up Nair, catfish and Saran wrap.
It soon becomes a whirlwind of high school vengeance as Margo has Q take her to her ex friend’s, Becca (Caitlin Carver), house, who is in the process of having sex with Margo’s now ex-boyfriend, Jase Worthington (Griffin Freeman). Determined to achieve retribution for their betrayal, she calls Becca’s father anonymously to let him know what’s going on in his basement. Anticipating that Jase will soon run out naked, Margo puts a steering wheel lock in his car and tells Q to get ready to take a picture of Jase running across the lawn naked. The revenge continues this way throughout the night, with her best friend Lacey Pemberton (Halston Sage) also on the list for not telling her about what was going on behind her back.
Feeling as though they’ve reconnected by the end of the night, Q is crestfallen to find that Margo has vanished the next day. Although she’s always running away, there is a finality to it this time. But a clue left on the inside of her window facing Q’s leads him to believe that she wants him to find her. Upon telling his two best friends, Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith), about it, they are eager to help him in his quest to track her down. Apart from highlighted lines from a Walt Whitman book and an abandoned souvenir shop, there is little to go on. The lameness of these clues is, indeed, telling of the fact that every one of the characters in this novel/movie is grasping at an attempt to feel “wild” when, in actuality, there is nothing all that daring about skipping school or taking a two-day road trip. But then, this is the sort of feel-good movie aimed at the less jaded demographic (specifically Hollywood’s bread and butter, the Midwest)–the type of people who will do one or two “crazy” things in their youth and cling to it for the rest of their lives.
While there are briefly believable attempts at meaningful dialogue in Paper Towns, like Margo’s musing, “All the paper kids drinking beer some bum bought for them at the paper convenience store. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too. I’ve lived here for eleven years and I have never once come across anyone who cares about anything that matters,” it is ultimately all paper thin in substance. Especially when considering Margo’s bull shit response to Q’s appearance in the paper town she’s run away to.