Paper Towns

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Paper Towns Movie Poster Image
Smart, edgy adaptation captures the humor of self-discovery.
  • PG-13
  • 2015
  • 109 minutes
 Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 15 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 35 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

A person should never be considered a myth, because that strips them of both their flaws and their humanities. Teens should go outside their comfort zone. Discourages the objectification of girls as "manic pixie dream girl" creatures and encourages living in the present and nurturing close friendships. Communication is an important theme.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Quentin's best friends, Radar and Ben, are loyal, honest, and kind, and they help him even when they think his plan is a little nuts. Lacey isn't "just" a pretty face, proving that first impressions are superficial and don't capture the "real" her. Quentin cares so much about Margo that he's willing to put himself in danger to find her. On the downside, the parents are either clueless, non-existent, or unhelpful.

Violence

An angry jock pushes a much smaller guy against a locker and threatens him before backing down. A van nearly crashes and ends up stalled on the side of the road, scaring all the teens on board.

Sex

A teen guy swears he had sex with two girls. A teen couple is caught having sex; viewers see the guy running out of the house naked (he's covering his crotch, but his butt is visible). The same couple is shown on a bed; the girl, wearing just a bra, is on top of the guy, moaning and kissing him. A guy tells his friends that he and his girlfriend are planning to lose their virginity on prom night. One scene of making out leads (off camera) to sex. A character repeatedly makes comments about Q's "hot" mom, whom he would love to have sex with ("tap," "hit that," etc.).

Language

One "f--k," plus a few uses of "s--t," "a--hole," and "Jesus Christ" (as an exclamation). Scatological humor includes a guy peeing into two cans while in a moving car.

Consumerism

Brands/products seen include Honda Odyssey, Volvo, iPhone, Saran Wrap, Nair, Converse, and Pokemon.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Underage drinking at a high school party (one character does a couple of keg stands). One character is so drunk that he throws up.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 12 year old Written bytintinr July 29, 2015

Good movie, but really strong language.

The MPAA rating is perfect, but the language fits an R rating rather than a PG-13 one. I do NOT recommend this movie for pre-teens. There is one use of an extre... Continue reading
Adult Written byjanellej July 27, 2015
Teen, 16 years old Written byJflores14 July 23, 2015

spectacular book based drama is just as good as the book, maybe even better

I just have to say that I LOVED THIS MOVIE. It was hilarious, devastating, and a fun journey to take. CONTENT: Violence- one bully threatens Q, but it doesn... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old July 29, 2015

Much tamer then book, but still iffy John Green stuff.

Loved the John Green? Then dive into the funny... and mysterious world of Paper Towns. Although the movie avoids the most outrageous scenes like in the book, it... Continue reading

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?

  • How does the movie depict teen sexuality and drinking? Are there realistic consequences? Parents, talk to your teens about your values on these issues.

  • 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?

  • How does Paper Towns promote communication? Why is this an important character strength?

  • 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?

Movie details

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

For kids who love books turned into movies

Our editors recommend

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate