PAPER TOWNS. Starring: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Griffin Freeman, Catlin Carver, Justice Smith, Austin Abrams, and Halston Sage. Directed by Jake Schreier. Rated M (Sexual references). 109 min.
This American film is based on the 2008 bestselling novel of the same name by John Green about a coming-of-age attachment between a teenage boy and a girl, who suddenly disappears and re-enters his life. It is set in a fictional town of Jefferson Park in Orlando, Florida.
Quentin Jacobsen (Nat Wolff) lives opposite his neighbour, Margot Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne). As young children they played together, and one day they discover the body of a divorced man who apparently committed suicide. Following this event, the film takes up the story of their involvement as high school students. As the years roll by, they have grown apart. Now, Quentin tries to keep his infatuation intact and keeps to his books, while Margot spends most of her time earning her reputation as the most popular, exciting girl around.
Just before school graduation, Margot unexpectedly enters Quentin's bedroom in the middle of the night, dressed oddly, to tell him she desperately needs his car. She wants it to exact revenge on the people she thinks have hurt her over the years. They spend the night together driving from one adventure to another. For example, both of them break into the home of Margot's ex-boyfriend, Jase (Griffin Freeman), who cheated on Margot with her girlfriend, Becca (Caitlin Carver). Margot leaves a painted "M" behind, as she does with others who have hurt her, and through the night Margot and Quentin exact revenge on people who have disturbed them in some way, and do bizarre things to them like putting vaseline on the door handles of their room. Their adventures are a wild ride. To Quentin they are thrilling; to Margot they are routine. As morning breaks, Quentin cannot get Margot out of his mind.
The next day, Quentin's shows up for school, and learns that Margot has disappeared. When Margot goes missing for three days, her parents file a police report. Thinking of the man he found with Margot years before, Quentin begins to wonder if Margot has come to harm. With help from Margot's little sister, Quentin explores Margot's room and thinks that it is full of clues as to where Margot might be. A poem that Margot leaves behind, for instance, has highlighted sections in it that seem to guide him to where she is. When Quentin, accompanied by Radar (Justice Smith), Ben (Austin Abrams) and Lacey (Halston Sage), eventually finds Margot, she is hiding in a town over a thousand miles away. Margot tells a disappointed Quentin that she did not leave any clues for him to try and find her; she tells him that she has "been leaving clues all her life".
The title of the film refers to a trick of cartographers when they put towns on their maps that don't really exist. They are towns that preserve their mystery by being intentionally "fake". Margot is a mystery to Quentin in the same way. With each clue, leading Quentin to an adventure to try to find her, Margot becomes a person who seems different to the girl he thought he once knew. He realises that he has taken someone he thought he knew for granted, but with every clue he seems to be finding another person.
The film is an interesting journey into the the imaginations and mysteries of teenage existence. The young people in the movie are flawed and awkward, and all of them are depicted as vulnerable to the anxieties and sexual concerns of modern teenage life. The messages about Margot that Quentin finds, give different clues as to what the term "paper town" could mean, and Margot changes in personality from being a "paper-girl" into a woman of complexity that Quentin finds himself increasingly excited by. In the final run, Margot knows that Quentin genuinely cares for her, even though in her "paper" world, she "never met anyone that cares for anything that matters".
In distinctive style, and under the inventive direction of Jake Schreier, the movie is a very unusual one, with a light touch, and it has a puzzle-like structure that keeps the viewer involved. There is some raunchy dialogue, assumed to appeal to those easily seduced by popular youth-culture, but the film plays cleverly with the concepts of illusion and reality. The overriding message of the film is that human beings, especially adolescents, are vastly more complicated than the easy assumptions we make about who they appear to be.
This is an entertaining movie that keeps one guessing after the final credits have rolled by. Viewers may struggle with an ending that is intriguingly ambiguous, though contrived. It is an ending, however, that intentionally preserves the "cultivated myth" of Margot.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Twentieth Century Fox Films
Released July 16th., 2015