Paper Towns

Posted on July 23, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some language, drinking, sexuality and partial nudity -- all involving teens
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Teen drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Dead body, references to suicide, some bullying and peril
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 25, 2015


Everyone has one. That unobtainable dream we longed for when we were first learning what it felt like to be in love. For most of us, these impossible-to-attain objects of our desire are like training wheels to keep us from wobbling as we begin to understand our feelings. Like the Garth Brooks song, “Unanswered Prayers,” we end up grateful to apply the lessons we learned in our wiser choices. But movies often grant us the magical chance to make our fantasies a little more real by showing us characters who do find a way to love with the ones they adored from afar.

So we have certain expectations when Quentin (Nat Wolff) tells us in the beginning of “Paper Towns” that (1) everyone is entitled to one miracle and (2) that he has been deeply in love with his next door neighbor Margo since she moved in when they were kids. And those expectations are confirmed when he tells us what good friends they were as kids and how, now that they are about to graduate from high school, they barely speak. She has passed out of his league. “Her life had become a series of unbelievably epic adventures.”

Think of all the high school movies where this led to an ending that surprises everyone on the screen and absolutely no one in the audience and yet leaves us all warm and happy. But John Green (“The Fault in Our Stars”) is not about delivering warm and happy. He is about wise and illuminating and human and heartfelt, and this film is all of that.

Margo (supermodel Cara Delevingne) appears in Quentin’s bedroom window one night, as she used to when they were kids. She invites him on an adventure. “I have nine tasks to accomplish and more than half of them require a getaway car.” It turns out that her handsome athletic star of a boyfriend was cheating on her with one of her best friends and she wants revenge. “We are righting wrongs and then we are going to wrong some rights,” she promises. “Basically, it’s going to be the best night of your life.”

She soon has him feeling like a knight or a ninja as they carry out her plans, which are well thought out and involve only minor mayhem and semi-major embarrassment for the transgressors. He finally gets to bed, happy and looking forward to seeing her in school the next day.

But she has disappeared. She has run away before and her parents are ready to give up. But Quentin is not. He is certain she has left clues behind and with the help of his friends Radar (Justice Smith) and Ben (Austin Abrams) and Margo’s friend Lacey (Halston Sage), they try to figure out where she is. When Quentin thinks he knows, they all decide to drive there together and find her, and Radar’s girlfriend (Jaz Sinclair), even though it is 1200 miles away and everyone but Quentin really wants to make it back in time for the prom.

It turns out that this trip is the best part of the film, and it turns out there’s a reason for that. Each of the characters is real and interesting and appealing. Each has some self-awareness and each approaches the lessons along with road with grace. The guys have an easy chemistry, the kind people have when the most important thing they have in common is their history, and they know, in their hearts, that once they leave for college that won’t be enough to hold them together the same way again. That poignance turns out to be essential in setting the stage for what Quentin will find at the end of his journey. The best thing about giving up those early romantic dreams, whether about people or about love or about getting what we deserve, is that it opens up our hearts for something even better, and it is good for people of any age to see how that story is told.

Parents should know that this film includes teen drinking and drunkenness, crude sexual humor and other sexual references and non-explicit situations, some nudity, strong language, suicide, gun, and some pranks and law-breaking.

Family discussion: How big is your comfort zone? What is your miracle?

If you like this, try: the book by John Green and “The Fault in Our Stars” and find out what DFTBA means

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Based on a book Movies Stories about Teens

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