Paper Towns is the story of obsession, masquerading behind a coming-of-age love story. The movie begins with Quentin (Nat Wolff) and Margo (Cara Delevingne), two childhood friends that discover the body of a man who has committed suicide. Always the adventurous one, Margo wants to investigate, but Quentin is not so sure and doesn’t want to get in trouble. Even from a young age, Quentin take the role of the reasonable voice of logic, but Margo clearly finds him a drag. Although they are friends, they are polar opposites, and in order for the friendship to progress, one of them will need to change.
Several years after locating the body, Margo and Q are in high school, but they have both grown apart. Q seems to lust after Margo, but to her, Q is just someone she knew as a kid. That is, until, Margo climbs through his window to ask for his help. Always the manipulator, Margo convinces Q to leave the house in the middle of the night to help her exact her revenge on her friends who had wronged her. Q still lusts after Margo, even though they have been out of each other’s lives for years, and, as a result, complies with her wishes.
This starts Q on an adventure that shakes him from his comfort zone and makes him realize that his life, up until that point, has been boring and safe. The writer makes an interesting point that even though Q is on track to graduate in a few weeks and then plans on going to medical school, it just takes a girl to derail that entire plan.
Once the night is over and Quentin is back in his own bed, that night of mischief marks a turning point for him, albeit a small one. At this point, Q realizes that his life has mostly been full of doing the right thing and being responsible, which has made him lose out on the high school experience — doing dumb things at parties and getting in trouble.
Even though he goes along with Margo’s plans, and even enjoys himself a little bit, he still plays the role of worrywart, constantly wondering if he is going to get in trouble, and wondering what would happen if he did (because he has never experienced that before). The next day, Margo is gone and after talking to her unconcerned parents and the police, Q decides that he is going to take the newfound sense of adventure he learned from Margo and go find her based on the clues that she left.
The hunt becomes an obsession for Q, and once he determines where she is likely to be, he “borrows” his mother’s car and brings his group of friends along with him to find her. All are excited to travel together, with the caveat that they make it back in time for prom. Quentin agrees, and they begin their journey.
This is where the story becomes troubling. Not only does the plot presume several hard to swallow situations (what mother of a teenaged boy is okay with him stealing her car and driving several states away to an unknown place with his friends?) Along the trip, Q realizes that he “loves” Margo and as such justifies his erratic behavior, but during the road trip, his friends begin to question what Q is actually doing, and whether or not Margo is a worthy object of his affection.
Even though Paper Towns is troubling to watch because of the storyline, it is an enjoyable movie with a refreshing, realistic ending. Both young actors’ performances are touching and believable, if not occasionally upsetting, and the storyline does make a valid if not slightly overdone point: There really is more to living than just doing what one is supposed to, and it is important to take that adventure and make mistakes to find out who you truly are.