Paper Towns is full of tropes we often see in coming of age tales: The best friends, the girl next door, the road trip, and the rite of passage. On one hand, it might seem lazy that these characters and themes keep popping up in movies like this. On the other hand, the actual high school experience is largely comprised of such tropes and we can all personally identify with them. Besides, what really matters is how well these tropes are represented. In the case of Paper Towns, Director Jake Schreier has made a coming of age movie that’s unique while also being familiar in all the right ways.
Nat Wolff stars as Quentin, a high school senior who’s been in love with Cara Delevingne’s Margo since childhood. Because Margo is an adventurous free spirit and Quentin likes to play it safe, the two eventually have a falling out. After rekindling their friendship one night, however, Quentin wishes to express his true feelings for Margo. The problem is that Margo disappears the next day and nobody knows how to find her. Quentin uncovers several clues Margo left behind regarding her location, though. Along with his two best bros, played by Austin Abrams and Justice Smith, as well as two female friends, played by Halston Sage and Jaz Sinclair, Quentin sets out to find his dream girl.
The film is based on the bestseller by John Green, who also wrote the source material for The Fault in Our Stars. Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, whose other credits include (500) Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now, adapted both novels for the screen. All three men have a great understanding of the insecurities, heartbreak, and phobias that accompany being a teenage. In Paper Towns, they touch base on many of the anxieties that aren’t a big deal to some, but are a huge deal to others.
Many kids nowadays will constantly ditch school and go to parties without batting an eye. Kids like Quentin and his friends, however, will become concerned if they even miss one pop quiz. Paper Towns presents a rare message for young people that fear stepping out of their comfort zone: Cutting loose and breaking the rules on occasion is okay as long as you don’t go too far. Otherwise, you’ll graduate from high school with no treasured memories. It’s like what Ferris Bueller summed up so perfectly almost thirty years ago.
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
As for what Quentin finds at the end of his road trip, I won’t spoil that here. Even if I did, though, it really wouldn’t matter that much. Paper Towns shows us that high school isn’t about the final destination, especially since you have your whole life ahead of you. It’s about the friendships you form, lessons you learn, and the risks you take on the unforgettable journey. Further carried by strong performances, an engaging mystery, a refreshing sense of humor, and honesty, Paper Towns is another strong entry to the new age coming of age genre.