As the second installment in the John Green Cinematic Universe, Paper Towns bears all of the markings of the YA author’s patented brand of teenage storytelling. Its characters are intelligent and kind-hearted high schoolers who like going by first, middle, and last names and have some tough truths to learn before donning caps and gowns. But unlike in its predecessor, The Fault in Our Stars, the path to pubescent enlightenment in Paper Towns is more literal than existential — a road trip rather than a fight with terminal cancer — giving your tear ducts the night off at the cost of something a little deeper.
Apart from source material written by Green, the throughline from Fault to Towns is Nat Wolff, who gets the deserved promotion from strong supporting actor to leading man. He plays Quentin — Q for short — a smart kid with plans to attend Duke in the fall and a paint-by-numbers outline for the decade after college. What he isn’t expecting at the start of the film is a visit from Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne), his generously browed neighbor who’s a bit of a local folk hero. Margo has an elaborate plan for revenge against her cheating boyfriend and his complicit group of friends that requires Quentin’s assistance, something he’s more than willing to provide to the girl he loves from across the street. Their one crazy night, however, is kept from becoming anything more than that when Margo disappears the next day without a trace.
Well… there is some trace. Margo may have left behind a trail of clues hinting at her whereabouts for Quentin and his two best buds Ben and Radar (Austin Abrams and Justice Smith) to follow. The “may have” turns out to be an essential part of the mystery at the heart of Paper Towns, and what Green is saying in a larger sense about teenage boys and the girls they worship. That message is one worth exploring, but the real joy of Paper Towns is the interplay among Wolff, Abrams, Smith, and eventually Halston Sage and Jaz Sinclair as Margo’s best friend and Radar’s girlfriend. Written by Fault’s screenwriting duo Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Webber, the scenes between the intrigue have an ease and brightness that leave you wondering why anyone’s making such a fuss over Margo. We’d just rather watch these kids hang out. B