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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Paper Towns is another adaptation of a best-selling young adult novel by John Green (The Fault in Our Stars). But unlike that tear-jerking love story, this is more of a comical coming-of-age mystery about a high school senior who convinces his friends to search for his smart, beautiful neighbor, who's disappeared just a couple of weeks before graduation. Language is infrequent but does include one memorable "f--k," as well as "s--t," "a--hole," and "bitch." Sexual content is more pervasive than in Fault in Our Stars; there are a few scenes of off-camera sex, including one in which the guy is caught running out of a house naked (his butt is visible). Another shows a bra-clad teen girl atop a guy, moaning and kissing him. There are also references to virginity loss and comments about a mom that one teen boy says he wants to "tap"/"hit"/etc. Drinking is also an issue: One sequence takes place at a big party where teens do keg stands and -- in one case -- get so drunk they throw up. But the movie compellingly explores relatable coming-of-age issues like taking chances, first love, best friendship, and the difference between fake and genuine people and personalities.
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What's the story?
PAPER TOWNS is the adaptation of best-selling young adult author John Green's third novel, a coming-of-age story that follows Quentin "Q" Jacobsen (Nat Wolff), a Duke-bound high school senior who plays by the rules but not-so-secretly harbors a decade-long crush on his beautiful, popular, eccentric neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevigne). When Margo shows up in Q's room one night and asks him to accompany her on a late-night revenge mission against her cheating boyfriend and lying best friends, he tentatively agrees -- and finds himself caught up in Margo's charismatic persona. But the next day she's not at school, and after a few days, it's clear she's missing (or has run away, depending on how you look at it). One day Q finds a clue left by Margo that leads him to another clue he believes will lead him to her. Enlisting his best friends, Radar (Justice Smith) and Ben (Austin Abrams); Radar's girlfriend, Angela (Jaz Sinclair); and Margo's best friend, Lacey (Halston Sage), Q sets out on road trip to a "paper town" in upstate New York, where all signs point to Margo.
Is it any good?
This movie doesn't require the amount of emotional investment or elicit the kind of tearful response as The Fault in Our Stars, but it's well-acted and humor-filled. Paper Towns is a coming-of-age story about how the girl one guy is searching for is more of an idea than an actual person. The movie, just like the book on which it's based, makes it clear that Q's quest for the mythical adventurer Margo Roth Spiegelman isn't so much about her as it is about him. Wolff, who was wonderful as Gus' best friend, Isaac, in TFIOS, hits it out of the park again as the slightly bland Q, who finally takes risks once Margo reappears into his life. And model-turned-actress Delevigne is effective as the magnetic MRS, though she's not what makes the movie special.
It's the supporting young actors -- and their chemistry with Wolff's Q -- that make Paper Towns more about friendship than love. As the son of the world's biggest collectors of Black Santas, Radar is an understated source of hilarity. And as the class-clown bestie with imaginary girlfriends, Ben is a hoot. All three actors genuinely look like regular, nerdy teens -- a big plus when watching a teen film. There are some obvious deviations from Green's book, but they're mostly for the sake of moving the story forward. And even the differences that aren't as understandable are forgiven, because Q and his friends are memorably funny on screen, and they'll make you think about everything from flawed perceptions to friendships that last far beyond prom and graduation.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether Paper Towns is a successful adaptation. What changes did the filmmakers make, and you do you understand why they made them? What parts of the movie captured the book best, and what parts of the book did you miss not seeing in the movie?
Contrast Q's relationship with Margo to the other romances in the story. Which one is portrayed the healthiest? Which one is the most believable? Critics of Green's story have called Margo the ultimate "manic pixie dream girl," but if Quentin acknowledges that he's been objectifying her -- and that she's not what he dreamed her to be -- does the criticism still hold? How does the book/movie subvert the idea of a beautiful, quirky girl as a myth?
Lacey confronts Quentin about how people perceive her. Do you agree that people see beautiful, popular teens and make assumptions, just as they would for a bespectacled band kid like Radar?
- In theaters: July 24, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: October 20, 2015
- Cast: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Halston Sage
- Director: Jake Schreier
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, High School
- Character strengths: Communication
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some language, drinking, sexuality and partial nudity - all involving teens
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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