Blu-ray Review: Paper Towns

By , Contributor
There's not much to outright dislike about the amiable Paper Towns except for its general air of pointlessness. Based on author John Green's popular teen lit novel of the same name, a likable cast and occasional flashes of humor can't elevate the film above the level of basic competence. Now available on Blu-ray (also DVD and Digital HD) from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Paper Towns focuses on an enigmatic high school girl, Margo (Cara Delevingne), and her childhood friend who's infatuated with her. That friend, Quentin, is played by Nat Wolff. While Delevingne, who factors so prominently in the film's marketing, is essentially a supporting character, Wolff carries the whole thing on his shoulders. Thankfully he's a charming actor who delivers a low-key performance. But by the time we reach the anti-climax, it's hard not to wonder who thought this story was truly worth telling.

It doesn't help that the thin plotting can't sustain a 109-minute runtime that's at least 20 minutes too long. Things work best in the film's breathless first act. We meet Quentin and Margo as young kids, learning how they grew apart once Margo's rebellious acts left the timid Quentin out of the loop. By the time we catch up to present day, Margo is dating Jase (Griffin Freeman) and she has almost no contact with the hapless Quentin. That is, until Jase starts cheating on Margo. Understandably hurt and furious, Margo recruits Quentin for assistance with an elaborate revenge plan that unfolds over the course of a wild night. 
Paper towns 1 (380x252).jpg Paper Towns is one of those movies that older viewers might view through cynical, world-weary eyes. There's a lot of talk about living life to the fullest—your basic carpe diem stuff. Once Margo mysteriously disappears, leaving behind clues as to her whereabouts (it's established early on that she's a mystery buff when she and Quentin, in their younger incarnations, discover a suicide victim), Quentin and a small group of friends embark on a quest to locate her. To their credit, screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber avoid easy sentiment. The issue, however, is just how much dead air bloats Quentin's journey from Florida to upstate New York. We also don't learn enough about what makes Margo tick. The story is far too male-centric, focusing primarily on Quentin's interests and not enough on why Margo needed to move away. 
paper towns 2 (380x253).jpg Solid audio/visual specs (the 1080p transfer handles the film's many dark, nighttime scenes well; a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix showcases pop tunes and Son Lox's score) are complemented by a fan-friendly array of special features. Director Jake Shreier and source novelist John Green sit for a chatty audio commentary. The duo also provides optional commentary for a short selection of deleted scenes. A three-part "making of" series totals about 20 minutes and gives us a breezy, superficial look at the production. More entertaining are John Green's "Lightning Round" sessions with stars Wolff and Delevingne. There are assorted minor supplements, including a gag reel that is even less funny than the typical collection of outtakes.

Full disclosure: I've not read the Paper Towns novel, nor any other John Green book. Last year's surprise smash The Fault in Our Stars was an emotionally devastating romantic drama that carried real import. Paper Towns is a totally different type of story, but a sense of purpose would've definitely added much-needed weight.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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